At least 20,000 packets of abortion pills were shipped to people in the United States in the six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, two sources with knowledge of the situation told VICE News.
The suppliers of these estimated 20,000 packets are neither abortion clinics nor abortion telehealth organizations, but instead operate outside of the U.S. legal health care system. The demand for their pills, as well as their success at shipping them out undetected, are evidence of the thriving underground abortion network that has sprung up since Roe’s demise devastated access to abortion clinics.
Meant to be used by people who want to induce their own abortions, these pills—and the people who supply them—are in a legal grey area. Self-managing an abortion is only banned in a few states, but experts have long warned that if a prosecutor is determined to press charges for it, they’ll find a way.
“People have always self-managed abortions and will always self-manage abortion. We’ll have to continue to fight back against all of the bans and restrictions that are being implemented on people,” said Christie Pitney, a licensed nurse practitioner, a midwife with Forward Midfwery, and co-founder of Abortion Freedom Fund, a fund for telehealth abortions. Referring to self-managed abortion, she added, “it’s just going to grow more and more.”
Pitney works with both Aid Access, an organization that mails abortion pills to states where abortion is legal, through providers like Pitney, and to states where it is not, through a doctor who is based overseas. When she started working at Aid Access, where she legally provides abortion pills to people in two states, Pitney estimated that she used to help roughly 60 people get access to abortion pills each month. Now, she said she helps “hundreds” per month.
“Those are specifically for myself, not even the whole organization,” said Pitney, who confirmed to VICE News that at least an estimated 20,000 abortion pills were shipped between the June 2022 Roe decision and December 2022.
Aid Access is not one of the suppliers included in the 20,000 estimate, suggesting that the true number of abortion pills that have been mailed out through covert channels since the end of Roe is even higher. A recent study of Aid Access also found that the organization received almost three times as many requests for help after Roe was overturned, compared to before a draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe leaked in May 2022. The biggest increases in requests came from people in states that have banned abortion.
Since Roe’s demise, at least 13 states have enacted near-total abortion bans. Data from the Society of Family Planning found last year that, in the two months following Roe’s demise, there were 10,000 fewer in-clinic abortions in the U.S.