• Otávio Santiago

Online abortion pill startups boom—even as they face new legal and privacy challenges

Over the past few months, abortion pill startups have been trying to keep up with a huge spikes in demand while navigating a tangled web of new regulations and privacy concerns. Since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade first leaked in May, Hey Jane, an online startup that provides abortion pills in seven states, reported a ten-fold increase in traffic to its website. And demand doubled for its mail-order abortion drugs, a combination of misoprostol and mifepristone that can safely induce an abortion during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy in the privacy of one’s home.

Along with Hey Jane, other telehealth abortion-pill focused service providers like Choix, Just the Pill, Abortion on Demand saw site traffic and interest explode anywhere from 600% to 2,000% after the fall of Roe in late June, according to Axios. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, more than half of abortions were being conducted via medication abortion, reports the Guttmacher Institute, which specializes in reproductive health policy. Now many states are attempting to outlaw the telehealth services and even the pills themselves.

Last month, the Biden administration took regulatory action to try to prevent states from banning access to the mail-order abortion pill, stating its beyond the scope of states’ rights given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) position that it is safe, effective, and does not need to dispensed in-person at a pharmacy.

But the murkiness of federal law presents challenges. For instance, a telehealth provider such as Abortion on Demand uses software which must confirm a patient’s physical location before allowing them to schedule a telehealth appointment to be prescribed a mail-order abortion pill. If they live in a state where access to the telehealth service itself has been restricted, as 19 states had already done prior to the Dobbs ruling, they would have to find a way to travel to a state where such services are still permitted in order to use the digital platforms given the location-verification requirement.

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