A murky online market for abortion pills is thriving as some U.S. states tighten abortion restrictions.
Dozens of websites state they ship abortion drugs anywhere in the U.S. without a prescription, which violates Food and Drug Administration rules. Most of the sites don’t clearly state who operates them or where they get the pills. The operator of one website said demand for abortion pills has surged since the Supreme Court removed constitutional protection for abortion in June.
The sites, some registered overseas, are distinct from U.S.-based telehealth operators that prescribe and sometimes ship abortion pills to patients in states that allow the procedure.
Sites selling abortion drugs without a prescription charge as much as $500 for a pack of abortion pills. Medical support isn’t included.
The websites provide access to pills for patients who can’t reach a clinic, or who live in states where telehealth consultations for abortion aren’t allowed, abortion-rights advocates said. But the unregulated market creates risks, they said, including that the pills arrive too late to be used effectively. People who buy abortion pills online without a prescription could face criminal charges, particularly in states that restrict the procedure, legal experts said.
Some health experts expressed concerns about websites potentially selling bogus drugs or not providing adequate information and medical support. “You don’t know what you’re getting,” said
executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which represents state pharmacy boards.
Two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, are typically used in a medication-abortion regimen, which the FDA has approved for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. Websites selling abortion pills without a prescription are mainly selling pills that haven’t been reviewed by the FDA, according to descriptions on the sites and information from buyers. The FDA has sent complaints to some companies associated with websites selling abortion pills online.
“Drugs that have circumvented regulatory safeguards may be contaminated, counterfeit, contain varying amounts of active ingredients, or contain different ingredients altogether,” an FDA spokesperson said.
Studies have shown medication abortion to be safe and effective, including when taken without a doctor’s supervision. Patients typically take the drugs at home even when they have been prescribed by a doctor.
Medside24.com, a a website based in Kazakhstan, said its abortion-pill sales across the U.S. have doubled since Roe v. Wade was overturned. The site buys abortion drugs manufactured by companies in China, Russia and Vietnam, a representative for the site said, including Vietnam-based Stellapharm J.V. Co.
Stellapharm said it manufactures mifepristone and misoprostol but wasn’t aware its products were being sold on medside24.com. Stellapharm’s pills are only sold with a prescription in Vietnam, a spokeswoman said.
A woman from Florida said she ordered pills from abortionrx.com in July. She said that would have preferred to visit a clinic near her home but didn’t want to wait three weeks until an appointment was available. Abortion is legal in Florida until 15 weeks of gestation.
No screening or prescription was required to complete the $249 purchase via
she said, and the pills arrived four days later in a brown envelope from an address in Las Vegas. There were no instructions, she said, so she followed guidance she found online to take the pills over several days. She said she didn’t experience complications during her abortion.
Abortionrx.com is registered to Rablon Healthcare Private Ltd. in Mumbai. Rablon didn’t respond to requests for comment.
At least six sites selling abortion pills without a prescription in July were registered under the name
Richard Asamoah Agyemang
of Denver, according to information on domain ownership. Mr. Agyemang said he is a college student and web developer. He said he doesn’t sell abortion pills. “I don’t know who made those websites,” Mr. Agyemang said. Two of the sites had been taken offline in August.
Some of the abortion-pill websites say that they sell pills from manufacturers in India. Three manufacturers mentioned on some sites,
Zydus Lifesciences Ltd.
and Naman Pharma Drugs, said they weren’t aware of the sites. Cipla said it stopped making abortion medication about seven years ago. Naman manufactures abortion pills on a contract basis for companies in Africa and doesn’t export to the U.S., a spokesman said.
A teacher in Ohio said she sought out abortion pills this spring using Plan C, a nonprofit that provides information about abortion pills, including some half-dozen websites that sell the pills without a prescription. Plan C said it regularly orders from the websites to vet them.
The teacher said she bought pills from Aid Access, a telemedicine provider in Austria, before realizing she would have to wait as long as three weeks for the pills to arrive from India.
“We really understand that this wait can be hard for women, and it’s really unfortunate that it’s something we cannot change,” Aid Access founder
The teacher in Ohio said she consulted Plan C again and bought pills for $470 from onlineabortionpillsrx.com. The site sent her a link to pay via PayPal, she said. The site instructed her not to mention the medications she was purchasing on PayPal, according to an email viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
“In case PayPal comes to know about what you purchased, PayPal may take legal action against you,” the email said.
Onlineabortionpillsrx.com, which is registered to a post-office box in Sydney, Australia, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
PayPal generally doesn’t pursue legal action against buyers, said a person familiar with the platform’s operations, but the company could close accounts if they violate its acceptable-use policy. The policy says sales of products requiring a prescription aren’t allowed without approval.
The teacher said she received a message from onlineabortionpillsrx.com saying the pills were delayed in transit from India. She said she paid $350 via PayPal to a third site, genericabortionpills.com. She said the pills arrived in a couple of days postmarked from Denver in a box marked “Antipreg Kit,” which was viewed by the Journal.
Genericabortionpills.com didn’t respond to requests for comment. The website says it sells pills made by Zydus. Zydus manufactures abortion pills on a contract basis, a spokesman said.
“We have no information on how they are being sold online,” he said.
—Jim Oberman contributed to this article.