An international organization called Women Help Women has launched a website that provides information to women who choose to use abortion pills to end their early pregnancies.
Advocates say it's a safe and private way for women to control their reproductive health. But there are legal risks involved.
Here & Now's Robin Young talks with Susan Yanow, a consultant and U.S. spokesperson for Women Help Women.
On why women make the choice to have a drug-induced abortion outside of a clinic
"The reality is we don't know all of the reasons that women are choosing this. We do know that in six states, plus Kentucky, there's only one clinic. These are large, rural states. As you mentioned, there are lots of restrictions in many states. It's not so easy as just going down the street to a clinic to get an abortion."
"I think, while we can assume that some women are choosing to self-manage their abortions because they can't get to a clinic, I think it's important to note that women have been doing this around the world for a long time. In fact, there was a study done in New York City in the year 2000 — New York City is a place where Medicaid covers abortion, where there's lots of clinics, where there's subway access. And yet this study found that women were choosing to use misoprostol alone to manage their abortions, rather than go to a clinic. So while some women may be choosing this because they can't get to a clinic, other women may see this as a better option."
On how the medications are used
"The FDA authorizes the use of these medicines through 10 weeks, the World Health Organization through 12 weeks, if it's not done under clinical care. But one can use mifepristone plus four misoprostol, or 12 misoprostol alone. And this is very important because misoprostol is available over the counter in many, many countries. Not in the U.S. But throughout Latin America. But it is used in the U.S. for arthritis in people and in dogs. It's used to treat ulcers. It's used to induce labor. It's used in other countries to prevent postpartum hemorrhage. So misoprostol has many, many uses, and is widely available around the world."
On laws in the U.S. about the medications, and whether the website is encouraging something that may be illegal in certain states
"Let me be clear: The website does not encourage women to self-manage their abortion. The website supports women who've already made that decision. The point of the website is to make sure they have accurate information, to be medically safe and also to minimize legal risk. Because if women understand that these pills cause a miscarriage, and that the chance of a complication — while extremely rare — is the same as a miscarriage, the presentation of a complication is the same as a miscarriage, and the treatment by any medical practitioner is the same, any woman can go to the hospital, if she has a complication, and get care without saying she took the medicines. There are no tests of blood or urine. So this project seeks to mitigate the legal risks."
"It's interesting that the people most opposed to this website are also the people most opposed to making sure that women have easy access to medical practitioners who can provide the care. To me, it's a little hypocritical when we have seven states with one clinic, and many states where women are travelling hundreds of miles to a practitioner, to say that women shouldn't be doing this. The reality is, abortion pills are safe and effective. The risk of complication is very low. And in fact, many scientists are pushing against the over-regulation. You may have seen articles published recently pushing for over-the-counter availability of these medicines in the United States. Because what scientists have told us is these medicines are safe. They are effective. And they're over-regulated in the U.S."
"Let me be clear: The website does not encourage women to self-manage their abortion. The website supports women who've already made that decision."Susan Yanow
On the concern that women won’t follow the recommendation to see a health professional after taking the medications
"If you talk to the health professionals where these medications are provided, they will tell you that many women don't come back. The reason being that women know when they're no longer pregnant. Women are intelligent. They can be trusted to know, what are the signs of a complication? And to come back for care only if they need it. The SASS website will fully inform women about what are the times when they do need to seek medical care, how to confirm that the pills were successful and what to do if they have a continuing pregnancy."
On concerns that adverse effects of the medications won't be reported
"Every medicine has possible side effects. The anti-abortion activists are not talking about the risks from Viagra, which are much higher, or in fact, the risks from penicillin, which have a much higher adverse rate. So the fact is that every medicine has some risks. In terms of adverse effects, the reality is women are already doing this. This is not a new phenomena. What's new is supporting these women to have the maximum amount of information that mitigates their health risks, and mitigates their legal risks. This is not encouraging people to do something that they're not already doing."
On whether access to medications affects the role of clinics
"Let me first say that as an advocate, I strongly believe that we have to fight to keep the clinics open, to expand the number of clinics. We've lost over 10 percent of our clinics in the last seven years. ... In the ideal world, we would have a situation where women could choose. Just like a woman going to a clinic can now choose whether she wants an aspiration, or a medication abortion. Women should be able to be supported in making the decision for how to terminate an unwanted pregnancy that best suits them. And as long they have information and support — whether at a clinic, or at home — their decision should be respected."
This article was originally published on May 04, 2017.
This segment aired on May 4, 2017.