Updated Jul 19, 2022 - Health

Abortion pill demand soaring following Roe's demise

Illustration of the score line on a pill in the shape of an upward arrow instead of straight across.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Demand for abortion pills is soaring following last month's Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, even as states move to ban or restrict access.

The big picture: Even before Roe's fall, almost half of U.S. states had laws in place that made it illegal to access pills via mail. Without federal protections on abortion, more states could implement further restrictions and attempt to make it impossible for people to get the medication.

What we're watching: While there is legal precedent that says states cannot ban an FDA-approved drug, conservative lawmakers could still attempt to make abortion pills illegal, or make getting them harder by passing telemedicine restrictions.

  • Some clinics have stopped offering the pills to out-of-state patients fearing that state lawmakers could prosecute abortion providers for helping people who are coming from places with bans.

By the numbers: Over half of abortions in the U.S. (54%) in 2020 were medication-induced, up from 39% in 2017, per the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

  • The use of abortion pills has been steadily rising over the years, and it's possible there could be an even larger increase in use in the years to come.

State of play: Hey Jane, a U.S. telemedicine startup specializing in abortion pills, said in a statement that in the days after Roe was overturned, its site traffic "grew almost 10x and patient demand more than doubled" compared to May.

  • "At Hey Jane, we’re more than prepared to accommodate this increase in demand and have been preparing for this reality for months," said CEO Kiki Freedman.
  • Plan C, a campaign that offers information and resources on abortion pills, said that their web traffic the week of June 24-30 after Roe fell was up over 2,000% from the week before, "from 20,000 weekly visitors to nearly 500,000 that week."
    • "Since then, website visits have settled around 50,000/week, still about 4x average number of visitors compared with March 2022," the group said.
  • Choix, a virtual clinic that provides abortion pills, "experienced a 600% increase in website traffic the day Roe fell," CEO Cindy Adam told Axios. The company currently operates in four states, but plans to expand to every single state where abortion is available by the end of 2023.
    • "We are continuing to experience higher than normal increase in web traffic ... and anticipate a growing number of inquiries from patients as we expand and information about telehealth becomes more readily available, especially as it relates to abortion and reproductive care," Adam added.
  • Just the Pill, a nonprofit that provides abortion pills in four states, said that it is "primed" to meet the challenges that may arise from Roe's demise.
    • The nonprofit is receiving "about 25 appointment requests a day compared with 16 a day" before Roe disappeared, said Julie Amaon, Just the Pill's medical director.
    • In anticipation of a demand increase, the organization implemented a new program of mobile clinics that will operate on state borders to decrease travel times for patients coming from states that restrict access.

What they're saying: Shout Your Abortion, a campaign that supports abortion rights and works to increase public knowledge around the pills, told Axios that their Instagram account has gained 25,000 new followers since the Dobbs decision.

  • More than 20,000 people signed up for Shout Your Abortion's mailing list via their website, a huge increase for them, the group said.

Zoom out: While telehealth organizations that are in the U.S. are limited to follow state laws and work usually in states without restrictions, those overseas are able to dodge U.S. authorities.

  • Aid Access, which mails pills from a pharmacy in India, can mail pills to people even if they reside in red states.
  • In fact, Rebecca Gomperts, founder of Aid Access, told NBC News that after the court's decision, the site has receiving 4,000 requests a day, up from 600 to 700 a day before the ruling.

"The increase in demand has been disproportionate," Sandra Cardona, founder of Red Necesito Abortar, a nonprofit in Mexico, told The Wall Street Journal.

  • The group has received over 400 requests for abortion pills from patients in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states the ruling.

Between the lines: Most state restrictions on abortion pills punish the pill provider, not the patient receiving the medication.

  • That means a patient could travel across state lines to pick up the pills at a post office, or theoretically have them sent to a friend's address or other mail forwarder in one of the states where U.S. abortion pill providers operate, Axios' Dan Primack writes.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information throughout.

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