When the abortion pills arrived in her mailbox this summer, she felt anxious but also in control, knowing she could end her pregnancy entirely in the privacy of her own home.
“I was happy that I was going to be able to do it myself and I did not have a nurse there or doctors there staring at me and judging me,” she said, asking to be identified only by her middle name, Marie, because she did not want people outside her immediate family to know about her abortion.
Marie is part of a small but closely watched research effort to determine whether medical abortions — those induced by medicine instead of surgery — can be done safely through an online consultation with a doctor and drugs mailed to a woman’s home.
At a time when access to abortion is being restricted on many fronts, advocates say being able to terminate a pregnancy through telemedicine and mail-order drugs would provide a welcome new option for women. Opponents of abortion find the concept dangerous and deeply disturbing.
The idea builds on a trend that is helping women obtain birth control more easily. A growing number of smartphone apps and websites now make it possible to get prescription contraceptives without visiting a doctor’s office first. The pills Marie and the other women received through the study are not allowed for sale in pharmacies and are usually available only at hospitals and abortion clinics.
Australia and the Canadian province of British Columbia allow women to get abortion pills by mail after consulting with a physician or other health care provider via phone or the internet. Several international organizations offer mail service in countries where abortion is otherwise unavailable or severely restricted. The oldest group, Women on Web, based in the Netherlands, has provided abortion medications to about 50,000 women in 130 countries since 2006. The service is not available in the United States, and the Food and Drug Administration warns against buying the drugs over the internet.