Pro-life group backs FDA's ban on online abortion pill sales amid lawsuit

The headquarters of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seen in Silver Spring, Maryland, November 4, 2009. | (Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)

A national pro-life organization says it supports the Food & Drug Administration's ban on online abortion pill sales following a lawsuit filed by an abortionist whose best known for her Women on Waves abortion ship.  

Abortionist Rebecca Gomperts, who's a registered physician in Austria, and founder and director of Women on Waves and Women on Web, filed a complaint last week against the FDA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho on behalf of Aid Access, an additional site she operates that also sells abortion pills online. 

Randall K. O'Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Committee, told The Christian Post that "the evidence out there of the risks and dangers associated with these pills show that the FDA is more than justified in maintaining strict controls on their distribution and use."

"Gomperts' lawsuit may serve to advance her group's agenda, but it will not serve the health and safety interests of women — or their unborn babies," O'Bannon said. 

O'Bannon said Gomperts' lawsuit is part of an effort to reduce the FDA's rules and regulations on abortion drugs, even though regulations were already loosened under the Obama administration.

"They considered any regulation requiring a pregnant mom to actually visit the clinic or preventing a prescriber from sending the pills by mail burdensome and unnecessary," O'Bannon said. 

Sue Turner director of Physicians for Life, told CP in a recent interview that when mifepristone first came out, the FDA's protocol was for it to be used through seven weeks, or 49 days from conception. However, since many abortion clinics were ignoring the FDA’s protocol and using the drug up to 60 days, states began passing regulations saying they had to follow the FDA’s protocol. Subsequently, "the Obama administration made the FDA change it to 60 days to match up with what the abortion providers were doing," Turner said. 

The U.S. is not the only country that prohibits online sales of abortion inducing drugs. Ireland, among many other countries, also bans the sale of abortion-inducing drugs via the internet.

In their lawsuit, Gomperts and Aid Access said they were filing the complaint on behalf of American women seeking to terminate their pregnancies via drugs acquired over the internet.

“Defendants are actively using the power of the U.S. government to deny Plaintiffs’ patients their constitutionally protected right to terminate their unwanted pregnancies prior to viability,” the complaint says. 

At issue is the FDA’s restrictions on mifepristone and misoprostol, marketed in the U.S. as Mifeprex, which can only be dispensed by a physician. 

Mifepristone, also called RU-486, and misoprostol are used in medical abortions. Mifepristone works by blocking the effects of progesterone, the natural pregnancy hormone, and Misoprostol induces a miscarriage.

“Access to medical abortions is most restricted in geographically large and primarily rural states like Idaho where the number of physicians certified to prescribe Mifeprex is small,” Gomperts says in her complaint. “The burden of these restrictions imposed by the FDA on medical abortions falls primarily on women who live in rural or medically underserved areas, have low income, are experiencing domestic abuse and/or are young.”

Richard Hearn, an attorney for Gomperts, told National Public Radio that the lawsuit was aimed at preventing Aid Access and its patients from being prosecuted for using abortion pills ordered online.

“Some women in the United States can exercise that right just by going down the street if those women happen to live in New York or San Francisco or other major metropolitan areas on either one of the coasts,” Hearn told NPR. “But women in Idaho and other rural states, especially conservative states ... cannot exercise that right.” 

In March, the FDA sent a warning letter to Aid Access, noting that the website had introduced “misbranded and unapproved new drugs” in “interstate commerce” in violation of federal law.

Two specific examples cited by the FDA were mifepristone and misoprostol, which they said were “not generally recognized as safe and effective for their labeled use.”

“ facilitates the sale to U.S. consumers of unapproved mifepristone in a regimen with unapproved misoprostol labeled for the termination of pregnancy,” the letter says in part. “No approved applications pursuant to section 505 of the FD&C Act are in effect for this product. Accordingly, its introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce violates" federal law. 

In response, Gomperts stopped selling the drugs for a month-and-a-half after she received the letter, NPR reports.

According to an FDA report last updated in April, from September 2000 to New Year's Eve 2018: "There were reports of 24 deaths of women associated with Mifeprex since the product was approved in September 2000, including two cases of ectopic pregnancy resulting in death; and several cases of severe systemic infection (also called sepsis), including some that were fatal.

"The adverse events cannot with certainty be causally attributed to mifepristone because of concurrent use of other drugs, other medical or surgical treatments, co-existing medical conditions, and information gaps about patient health status and clinical management of the patient," the FDA added.

Turner told CP in an earlier interview that mifepristone can be less effective when used later in a pregnancy. She noted that when abortionists dispense the drugs later on in a pregnancy, such as around 60 days, that can lead to abortion providers having to perform a surgical abortion and thus women "being charged for both chemical and surgical procedures.”

Turner warned that there are many websites that encourage women to take misoprostol to induce an abortion despite the documented risks.

“I shudder to think what happens to her and what she goes through in that process because in about 30 minutes she starts having horrific contractions. And women can die. If the cervix doesn’t open it can cause all kinds of horrible problems for her,” Turner told CP. 

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