By Elisha Brown
Fourteen U.S. states now ban most abortions after the Wyoming governor let an anti-abortion bill become law without his signature on Friday. Abortion seekers in restrictive states have turned to an international online service for help, States Newsroom National Reproductive Rights Reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris reported Monday.
Dr. Rebecca Gomperts founded Aid Access, a nonprofit based in Austria, in 2018 to prescribe abortion pills – mifepristone, a drug that blocks the hormone progesterone, and misoprostol, which causes contractions in the uterus – to people living in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The organization has gained attention in the U.S. since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last summer.
Gomperts, who grew up in the Netherlands, told Kelcie that Aid Access receives more than 1,000 emailed requests daily. The service typically costs $105, but 57% of people in need paid less than $53 based on their financial situations. “It is important to continue this work because the people we help cannot travel to other states to get a safe abortion,” Gomperts told States Newsroom.
Pills received through Aid Access typically come from India. The packages include a box with one mifepristone pill and four misoprostol pills and a separate container with 12 misoprostol pills. The extra misoprostol is for pregnancies of more than 12 weeks or if extra doses become necessary.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves medication abortion for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, while the World Health Organization says that abortion pills can be taken safely for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The FDA is a defendant in a federal lawsuit; plaintiffs are asking a Texas federal judge to revoke approval of the drugs or add regulations on medication abortion.
Aid Access sends tracking information, detailed instructions and lists of risks, side effects and pain management resources to people who the nonprofit helps. The group also includes a list of hotlines for emotional support, medical advice and notes on when to seek medical attention.
Kelcie details how Gomperts has inspired other international reproductive rights advocates, including Christine Ryan, the legal director of the Global Justice Center, who is from Ireland, a country that banned abortion up until 2018.
In the latest development in the abortion pills battle, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, recently signed a bill into law that explicitly bans medication abortion. Meanwhile a ruling from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk could soon upend medication abortion access – and anti-abortion rights advocates are pressuring Republican officials to tighten their laws post-Dobbs.
“We’re passionately working to make sure that chemical abortions are banned,” said Brandi Swindell, founder and president of anti-abortion center Stanton Healthcare in Idaho. “We want to make this a major issue in the 2024 presidential race."
Anti-abortion legal argument leans on 1800s Comstock laws
Earlier this month, I wrote about the newfound relevance of a Gilded Age law named after a moral purist who advocated for bans on contraception and abortion, among other cultural issues he and his followers deemed morally repugnant. Lawyers representing the anti-abortion rights plaintiffs in the closely-watched federal lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in 2000 referenced The Comstock Act of 1873, which banned mailing anything related to contraception or abortion, according to the Texas Tribune.
A wide interpretation of the Comstock Act, named after anti-vice advocate Anthony Comstock, could ban mailing abortion medication, according to David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University. U.S Supreme Court rulings from the 20th century that legalized abortion and contraception weakened the effectiveness of the law. “The contraception clauses were removed in 1971, and the law was entirely unenforced during the five-decade reign of Roe v. Wade,’’ the Texas Tribune reported.
Anti-abortion groups and doctors challenging mifepristone’s approval contend the Comstock Act backs their arguments for further restrictions. The U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion in December that mailing abortion pills is still legal across the country, despite state anti-abortion laws.
New Mexico Legislature passes reproductive, gender-affirming health care bill
Despite opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, the New Mexico House passed Senate Bill 13, which would increase protections for reproductive health and gender-affirming health care, by a 38-30 vote on Friday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill into law, according to Source New Mexico.
State Rep. Rod Montoya, a Republican, debated the bill for nearly two hours last week in an effort to stall the proposal. Six Democratic representatives voted against the bill, which would safeguard physicians and patients from being extradited in criminal or civil cases, along with protecting health care information.
North Idaho hospital shuts down labor and delivery unit
On Friday, States Newsroom’s Kelcie Moseley-Morris broke the news that Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, will no longer provide obstetrical services. Pregnant patients will have to drive nearly 50 miles to give birth at the nearest labor and delivery unit within Idaho.
The head of the hospital said in a press release the decision was difficult but unavoidable, citing the declining number of physicians, changing demographics and the state's political climate as reasons for the closure. The soon-to-be shuttered maternity ward is another example of labor and delivery units closing across the country, especially in rural areas.
Idaho bans nearly all abortions at any gestational age and requires affirmative defenses in court for terminating pregnancies that were the result of rape, incest or medical emergencies. Physicians could face felony charges with prison time and the suspension or revocation of their medical licenses for violating the abortion law. Dr. Amelia Huntsberger, an OB-GYN at Bonner General Health, told States Newsroom she will leave the hospital, which officially stops delivering newborns on May 19. “What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community,” Huntsberger said in an email.
“One recent poll found that 55% of Alabamians believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But that won’t move GOP lawmakers. I’ve seen them dismiss physicians who talked about the pregnancy complications their patients face. I witnessed them vote for the abortion ban in the presence of rape survivors.” – Brian Lyman, editor, Alabama Reflector
- A Wyoming judge is expected to hear arguments for a lawsuit challenging the state’s near-total abortion ban this week. (WyoFile.)
- Michelle Williams, epidemiologist and dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, talks about postpartum Medicaid expansion and high maternal mortality rates in Mississippi. (Mississippi Today.)
- Maternal-fetal health specialists worry that the rate of preterm births in the U.S. could increase post-Dobbs. (Kaiser Health News.)
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