Thirteen years ago, a ship sailed from Scheveningen, a Dutch town where Nazis once imprisoned resistance fighters. On deck stood a shipping-container-turned-abortion-den masquerading for legal reasons as “artwork.” Those on board planned to drop anchor where abortion is illegal, bring local women aboard, and head for international waters. There, operating under Dutch law, abortionist Rebecca Gomperts intended to dispense mifepristone and misoprostol. Taken in combination, the drugs induce abortion.
But after being turned away from several ports, Gomperts realized she didn’t need to sail the ocean blue in her death ship. She could sail a much larger ocean: the World Wide Web. Today, from a small office in Amsterdam, Women on Web mails abortion drugs to women in countries where abortion is illegal or tightly restricted. Gomperts believes she’s a champion for women (except unborn women, of course), and the UN backs her up. An official UN document calls on all member countries to legalize so-called “safe” abortion, stating, “Absolute prohibition under criminal law deprives women of access to what, in some cases, is a life-saving procedure.”
Well, except for the baby.
A woman who contacts Women on Web completes an online questionnaire and promises she’s less than nine weeks pregnant. Her message is routed to one of several abortionists—none in the office and none identified by Women on Web—for “consultation.” The abortionist then sends a prescription electronically to a drug exporter in India. Back at the Women on Web “help desk,” a staffer emails the woman with instructions on how to take the pills and what to expect. At no time does a Women on Web client actually have to see a doctor.
The World Health Organization includes the drug combo on its Essential Medicines list, but even WHO knows the drugs can be dangerous. The listing includes this caveat: “Requires close medical supervision.”
Is the woman really less than nine weeks pregnant? Pro-abortion activists often describe pregnant women as “desperate”; might a desperate woman lie? Does she have an ectopic pregnancy, which may show no early symptoms at all, or other underlying medical conditions? Can she read and understand the instructions? What if complications threaten her life?
Here’s Women on Web’s help desk to the rescue: “We cannot judge your situation over a distance, so we advise you to visit your doctor. This is the limitation of the service.” Of course if the woman—now more desperate than ever—does visit her doctor, her secret, illegal abortion will be secret no more. In that case the Women on Web help desk will be glad to send her canned advice on avoiding criminal charges.
In 2013 the US Food and Drug Administration began investigating Indian companies that export generic drugs. Why was the FDA interested? Because Indian exporters supply 40 percent of all over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs used in the US, including cancer drugs and antibiotics. Investigators uncovered lapses in safety, false test results and even fake medicines. Since the investigation began, Women on Web’s drug shipments often have been delayed or lost, but if they are delivered, can women be sure they’re safe? Or even real? WHO estimates that 20 percent of generic prescription drugs made in India are fake.
We’re making great progress in shutting down abortion facilities in the US, and state legislatures have begun to reassert their constitutional right to govern without federal interference. But we must be vigilant. Here at home, where FDA guidelines specifically prohibit drug-induced abortions without a doctor’s oversight, some pro-abortion activists are pushing illegal, self-administered abortion as a way around the closing of abortion facilities.
Early feminists claimed we needed to legalize abortion so it would be safe abortion. Now they appear to have come full circle. As protective legislation is being passed in states to safeguard the health and well-being of women, pro-abortion activists are now advocating illegal abortion to get around them. Apparently their cherished belief that abortion is “between a woman and her doctor” is as expendable as babies’ lives.
President, Life Issues Institute
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