For the longest time, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts has been a rebel for women’s abortion rights. She began in the 1990s by traveling to countries where abortion was banned — countries like Poland and Portugal. Then, by using a Dutch ship moored in international waters where she was safe from local laws, she could perform abortions without harassment.
Since then, Gomperts, a native of the Netherlands, has streamlined the process, by simply mailing the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol to women who contact her, Mother Jones reports.
That doesn’t mean the process is 100 percent simple. In one 2016 instance, she sent a drone carrying the pills to Northern Ireland.
And she took things a step further last year by creating the organization Aid Access to help women in the U.S. and other countries where abortion access is legal but heavily legislated.
Now the FDA is after Gomperts and sent her a letter warning her that the drugs her organization sells are “misbranded and unapproved new drugs.”
But now that states are effectively banning abortion by passing restrictive laws, Gomperts says she isn’t going to stop, warning letter or no warning letter.
“I will not be deterred,” she wrote on her Aid Access website. “When women in the U.S. seeking to terminate their pregnancies prior to nine weeks consult me, I will not turn them away. I will continue to protect the human and constitutional rights of my patients to access safe abortion services.”
Well, Gomperts actually did stop. Briefly, for two days, after 120 Congress members wrote a letter thanking FDA commissioner Norman Sharpless for taking action. But just one day after Alabama became the first state to pass a ban that all but outlaws abortion and about one week after Georgia passed the “fetal heartbeat” ban, Gompert’s lawyer, Richard Hearn responded to the FDA.
In his letter, Hearn contended that by trying to stop Gomperts, the FDA was violating the constitutional rights of her U.S. patients to receive abortion care.
But what’s especially disturbing about the FDA’s letter is that, while it isn’t a lawsuit, it may become part of a looming trend. As states pass tighter abortion restrictions, more and more suppliers of abortion drugs are popping up and of course, they are also being targeted.
In one such case, FDA agents raided the New York City home of a woman who’d mailed abortion medications to 2,000 women nationwide, starting in 2016. It looks like no charges were filed, fortunately.
It’s a vastly different time than when women sought were forced to seek abortions illicitly, either through doctors or other medical practitioners. Abortion pills like misoprostol and mifepristone are safe and widely abundant via the internet, making it easier to terminate a pregnancy. They are also discreet because medication-induced abortions are virtually indistinguishable from miscarriages.
It remains to be seen whether the FDA can stop abortion pills from being mailed or even whether the agency has the jurisdiction to do so, but Hearn is certain that the more the screws are tightened on women, the likelier it is that they will look for other methods.
“The advent of these medicines and the web make these state restrictions like prohibition alcohol,” Hearn told Mother Jones. “They are going to be unenforceable. The harder states clamp down on rights, the more they will turn to Rebecca and others.”
Gomperts, in a telephone interview, told Mother Jones that Congress’s letter to the FDA is proof the agency is being subjected to political pressure to do something.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve ever gotten a letter like this. It’s a bullying strategy.”
And Hearn, who is working pro bono for Gomperts, in his response to the FDA, argues that the agency has no jurisdiction over her and that mifepristone and misoprostol, which are approved by the FDA are not “misbranded and unapproved.”
Hearn sees Gomperts situation as a way to possibly impact the blizzard of anti-abortion bills, some of which are so draconian that they implement a 99-year prison sentence for doctors who provide them, while other states outlaw abortions after six weeks.
“I see Rebecca as our strongest defense against legislative attacks,” Hearn said. “Just think of what a doctor is going to do in one of the states making abortion a felony. He or she is not going to risk it. But he could just say, ‘Just find Aid Access.’ That’s perfectly legal.”
In a 2013 interview with the BBC, Gomperts discussed the difficulties she’s faced in providing to these medications. You can watch the interview in the videos below.
Featured photo courtesy of the video above