The number of requests for abortion pills in Texas increased dramatically after a state legislation prohibiting abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy went into effect in September.
Texans’ requests to Aid Access, an international humanitarian organization that distributes abortion drugs by mail, increased by roughly 1,200% the week after Senate Bill 8 went into force, according to a report published Friday in JAMA Network Open by University of Texas researchers.
While that number decreased in subsequent weeks, it remained significantly elevated, with an average of 37.1 daily requests compared to 10.8 requests before the rule was implemented. Additionally, requests from every other state in the union grew at almost the same rate.
According to lead author Dr. Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, “what we are seeing here is keeping up with what we have seen in other locations where abortion has been severely restricted.”
On the other hand, it’s hard to say how many of these requests actually resulted in women getting an abortion done in their own homes.
According to Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the new study, it’s possible that some of the requests were made pre-emptively by women who weren’t yet pregnant but wanted the medication on hand.
Mifepristone and misoprostol, two medicines taken 48 hours apart, are used in medical abortions. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the pills are safe to take up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.
More than half of all abortions in the United States are now performed using medication rather than in-clinic surgery, according to the abortion rights research group Guttmacher Institute, which released its findings on Thursday.
Medical abortions have been on the rise since 2000, when the FDA approved mifepristone, when telemedicine became more commonplace during the pandemic.
The FDA announced in December that it would enable patients to get abortion drugs via mail for the foreseeable future.
In addition, state legislators are targeting mail-order abortion drugs.
Abortion pills ordered through the mail and consultations conducted via telemedicine are now illegal in Texas under SB 4, which took effect in December. Anyone who prescribes the prescription by telehealth or mail is subject to a $10,000 fine and up to ten years in prison.
According to Grossman, the pills are completely safe for human consumption. “However, I am concerned about the legal dangers that patients may be taking,” he stated.
At least 36 states require that abortions be performed by a licensed physician, but it isn’t clear how those state rules apply to groups like Aid Access, which are not established in the United States, according to Guttmacher Institute.
Such limits have been found to have no effect on the number of abortions done in the past.
According to Dr. Caroline Moreau, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “globally we’ve observed time and time again that legal conditions don’t dictate the number of abortions performed, but they do have a tremendous impact on the safety of abortion.”
Women and pregnant persons who are given accurate information and high-quality medication can have a safe and effective abortion via mail.
According to a study conducted in 2021 on requests to Aid Access, pregnant women who live far from an abortion clinic or are below the federal poverty threshold are more likely to seek abortion medication by mail, which is often cheaper than in-office care.