Texas Senate Bill 8 bans abortions after six weeks, when most people don’t yet know they are pregnant. The law empowers private citizens to sue anyone believed to be providing or “aiding and abetting” a procedure. Snitches, even ones living outside of Texas, can receive a $10,000 reward. Elisa Wells, a cofounder and codirector of Plan C, an informational resource for self-managed abortions, called SB 8 “abhorrent.” But she stressed that, despite the new and escalating restrictions, another option exists: the self-managed abortion. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, abortion medications are safe, convenient, and can be mailed directly to homes, but false rumors spread by anti-choice groups color self-managed abortions as dangerous “back alley” options that need to be highly regulated. Thankfully, groups like Plan C are working to demystify and destigmatize this medical tool. I spoke to Wells about the Texas law, misconceptions about self-managed abortions, and what the future of reproductive rights in America looks like.
GO: What is the current state of abortion access?
EW: In more than 20 states, you can go online, get a consultation, and have abortion pills mailed to your home for a convenient and confidential abortion. Unfortunately, that level of access—what we call modern 21st-century abortion care—is not available in many states. In states with restrictions on telemedicine care, there are other ways that people are accessing abortion pills. One of those is through an international human rights organization called Aid Access, which provides a physician-supported telehealth model. Depending on the state, the cost ranges from $105 to $150, and we know that tens of thousands of people in the United States are accessing that service every year. We also know that there are online pharmacies that ship abortion pills to the United States, and the cost of receiving the pills from these pharmacies ranges from $200 to $470. Our research on buying pills through online pharmacies shows that the sites are real and they ship real products.
GO: When it comes to self-managed abortions, is there ever a concern around counterfeit pills, especially when it comes to getting access in restrictive states?
EW: There have been concerns about counterfeit pills internationally. However, in our test purchasing, we did not encounter any counterfeit pills nor have I heard reports of counterfeit pills in the US recently. The pills themselves are not that expensive, so it would be more trouble than it’s worth to counterfeit them. We know a service like Aid Access, which is physician supported, is providing good quality pills.
GO: What are some misconceptions about self-managed abortions?
EW: One of the misconceptions that people have is that self-managed abortion is dangerous. There’s a lot of talk on social media: “Oh, with these abortion bans, if we go back to the situation of [pre–Roe v. Wade], we’re going back to dangerous abortion.” That simply is not true. We have the means, in the form of these pills, to have safe abortions.
Also, it’s a huge misconception that the pills need to be tightly regulated. That is a narrative of the anti-choice movement. They use the fact that the FDA has restricted access to these pills as “proof” that they’re dangerous. But they’re not. We have decades of experience and research that show that these pills are absolutely safe and effective. They’re safer than Tylenol, safer than Viagra, and the only reason that they’re restricted is because of political motivations.
GO: With Senate Bill 8 and other restrictive abortion access laws mounting across the country, is there any legal danger with the work Plan C is doing?
EW: The Texas law SB 8 is abhorrent in that it sets up a sort of vigilante bounty-hunter system where citizens are pitted against each other and can financially benefit from turning in people who have helped someone gain access to basic medical care. But we believe that we and others have a right to free speech and to help people understand what their options are. So at Plan C, SB 8 is not stopping us from speaking out about what we know about how people are accessing pills and where they can go to get access to care in the wake of the pretty much total shutdown of access in Texas.
GO: What are the legal dangers for someone who obtains abortion pills in a place where that is illegal?
EW: First, no one should be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes, although in our country people have even been criminalized for having a miscarriage. There are a few states that have laws that specifically target self-managed abortions, although lawyers tell us that those laws would be found unconstitutional if ever challenged. We don’t believe that people are doing anything wrong in obtaining pills and using them to manage their own reproductive health care, but we are not lawyers. We refer people to If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline. If/When/How can provide people with specific information about any potential risks in their state and at their gestation in pregnancy. It’s important for individuals to make their own decisions. Everybody’s risk tolerance is different, and it can depend on the color of your skin or your economic status or your immigration status.
GO: How can people who support reproductive rights help Plan C and the work you are doing?
EW: We’re interested in people sharing our messaging on social media. We love donations, and we have an “ambassadors of information” program if people are interested in volunteering to help spread the word. We need people to understand that we all deserve access to these modern, mainstream methods. Plan C believes that it’s time to put the power directly back in the hands of the people who need this basic health care.