'Unlicensed, Untrained, Illegal Abortionist' Sends RU-486 to Desperate Women By Mail

And to me, the whole story is both inspiring and depressing at the same time.

Sep 17, 2013 at 7:00pm | Leave a comment

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I've been pro-choice since before I fully understood what it meant. I don't remember which one of us got the abortion-rights bug (ha) first, but a few girl friends and I started attending pro-choice marches in D.C. in 6th grade. (We lived there, which made it easy.)

We'd wear purple and wave handmade signs and shout along with all the (mostly older, mostly female) masses demanding "abortion on demand without apology." At 12, I didn't grasp all the specifics (OK -- or the basics, having never even had a proper kiss at that point), but I knew enough to believe in women's freedom to choose what happens to their bodies, and how, and when.

I don't remember many details of the rallies themselves, but I remember how they made me feel. Namely, ADDICTED. I got completely swept up in the blustery power of so many impassioned women smushed elbow to elbow on the National Mall, and the life-affirming awesomeness of hearing tens of thousands of people recite a chant together in unison. I was taken with how HUGE it felt, how persuasive and real and tangible and … important.

I don't expect everyone reading this to believe what I believe about abortion rights, but I still think those rights are necessary. And even today, more than 20 years after my friends and I made those signs, tons of U.S. women -- many of them low-income -- still aren't getting easy, reliable, affordable access to abortion.  Which is why this anonymous piece on Jezebel, "I Help Desperate Women, and I Could Go To Jail for It," spoke to me.

The anonymous person (a woman, I'll assume, for the purpose of this post) describes sending "abortion pills" to desperate women who reach out to her after finding something she wrote about abortion online. She doesn't have a clue who some of these women are, but she knows they need help, because they say so.

"These women had dire stories. Many were mothers already. They needed abortions, but the nearest clinic was three, four, six hours away," she writes. "They told me they'd try anything: herbs, soaps. One asked if I knew how, exactly, it was that you went about using a wire hanger to abort."

So she started answering their pleas, sending the faceless women small, unmarked envelopes with "doses of two different drugs that, when used together, will abort nearly any first-trimester pregnancy" (misoprostol, which induces an early abortion about 80 percent of the time by itself, and sometimes Mifepristone, which can be added to the misoprostol to form the 95 percent effective RU-486).

She does all this mainly out of her own pocket. She acknowledges the risks involved -- she states clearly that she's an "unlicensed, untrained illegal abortionist" and doesn't mention having any medical background or experience. It's unclear exactly where she's getting the pills (maybe she works in a pharmacy or a hospital, somewhere with easy access?), but says she's spent about $1,000 on them so far; "some women have sent Paypal contributions when I send them pills, but if they don't, I don't argue. I'd rather get them what they need."

This story is totally inspirational, but also complex. As a pro-choicer, of course it gives me the warm fuzz to know this person is choosing -- out of simple compassion and generosity -- to help strangers who need her; women who obviously feel they have nowhere else to go.

Is it ethically sound? Depends on your ethics. And is it sketchy, safety-wise, that she's doing all this seemingly without medical training? Kind of, I guess, but honestly, it doesn't bother me that much -- in general, the drugs are safe, and complications are rare. Reports of deaths from RU-486 are even more rare: less than 1 in 100,000 cases, comparable to that for early surgical abortion and for miscarriage.

Plus, it's not like we don't already take a wide array of drugs without medical supervision; everything has side effects and possible interactions, but that doesn't stop us from using it. As one person notes in the Jezebel comments, "If someone in my house says they have a headache and I tell them I have aspirin, do I need to justify my medical training to do so? It's not like she's using some secret family recipe that she swears works wonders, the pills she's sending are made for this express purpose."

But possibly the saddest and most powerful aspect of the story, for me, is the fact that this woman's services are needed or requested at all. What does it say about this country's abortion restrictions when women feel compelled to write to randoms on the Internet for help terminating a pregnancy -- when it's easier to get help from an online stranger than from an actual doctor? The fact that people like Anonymous are even out there proves how much further we still have to go.

How sketchy do you think her actions are?

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