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"This Supreme Court Takes Rights Away" sign held aloft in front of the blue Fondren building
Karen Hinton argues that courts and perhaps the Federal Drug Administration itself should uphold and regulate the rights of women in any state to access abortion pills through mail. “Women and girls can no longer trust anyone with the consequences of a decision to purchase an abortion pill,” she writes. Photo by Lukas Flippo

What’s In Our Mail and Email About Our Bodies and Choices Is Nobody’s Business

Last time I looked, the U.S. Postal Service is a federal, not a state service, and the mail distribution of abortion pills from a pro-choice state to an anti-abortion state is nobody’s business, especially the business of a state where a person lives. Last time I looked, the Federal Drug Administration determines the safety of a medication, and the FDA has decided abortion pills are safe.

I’m no legal expert but I’m not exactly sure who is after reading various articles on the topic of mail distribution, including the one about the drug company, GenBioPro Inc., a generic manufacturer of the FDA-approved abortion pill, mifepristone.

The Mississippi Free Press recently reported that GenBioPro has asked a court to allow the company to mail abortion pills in Mississippi, one of 14 states that bans or partially bans mifepristone and misoprostol.

These two medications send way fewer patients to the hospital than Tylenol, Viagra, and many other widely used medications easily obtained from a pharmacy store or doctor. Though not widely known about until after the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the pills induce the majority of abortions today, and half of all abortions are at home.

Targeting Mail-Order Abortion Pills

With its Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch in tow, Mississippi has joined a group of other anti-abortion states trying to stop women from buying abortion pills. Mississippi is arguing in the GenBioPro Inc. case that federal law already makes selling abortion pills a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and the drug prescription companies could even face racketeering charges, though both arguments are in dispute.

Yet that won’t stop Attorney General Fitch from coming after us, if we buy an abortion pill for a girl or woman in Mississippi, thanks in part to the complete lack of privacy online. Women and girls can no longer trust anyone with the consequences of a decision to purchase an abortion pill. Facebook recently stole online messages between a young Nebraska woman and her mother about abortion pills. Facebook handed the messages over to a prosecutor this past summer, and the mother and daughter have been charged with violating various laws in Nebraska.

a young woman protester holds up a sign saying "Keep Your Laws Off My Body"
Louisiana and Mississippi lead the nation when it comes to online inquiries about medication for self-managed abortions, studies show. Seen here, abortion rights supporters protested in Jackson on Oct. 2, 2021. Photo by Ashton Pittman

Fighting for a woman’s right to choose, including the right to buy an FDA-approved medication online, no matter where she lives, is underway in many states. Who wins these legal battles will be up in the air for years unless the Biden administration adds the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing women the rights they are entitled to, including the right to choose an abortion. It doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon, unfortunately. 

Arguing who controls mail distribution across state lines and what laws take precedent is extremely complicated when it comes to First Amendment rights, online and home privacy rights and other federal laws. Numerous state laws could result in the arrests of not only the abortion-pill providers but also the nonprofits, family members and friends who help women seeking an abortion, as well as even the women who choose an abortion. 

FDA As a Pharmacy, Protector?

A court ruling that forces states to allow mail-order abortion pills until the legal action is resolved would provide safety for women for months, if not years.

 Allowing drug companies to deliver abortion pills by mail to all states will give women their rights under federal laws already in place and will ensure that potentially dangerous pills from corrupt foreign and domestic companies will not be offered as some deceptive form of relief, resulting from state bans on bona fide drug companies selling FDA-approved pills. 

Banning something people need or want always results in illegal trafficking of a more expensive and potentially dangerous version of the ban.

The Federal Drug Administration is a powerful agency with a mission to protect people from dangerous products. As such, the FDA could become the “company” that sells the abortion pill to women, while protecting the drug companies that make safe abortion pills.

Various pills and contraceptive devices sit on a blue background
Karen Hinton writes that women cannot be “wards of a state which will dictate the medical advice women must take. As wards, women in states banning choice will no longer be full U.S. citizens.” Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

Perhaps turning the FDA into a pharmacy is a radical idea, but taking away the right to purchase something currently legal online is even more radical, severely impacting more than half of the U.S. population, from teenage girls to grandmothers wanting to ensure their granddaughters have the same rights they had during the past 50 years.

 Despite assurances from some states that women who are “caught” having an abortion are not punished, they have become witnesses for the prosecution, “exposed to all of these things that are dehumanizing and humiliating, so it is just an ancillary point that they will not be the subject of a criminal investigation,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director of If/When/How, a legal reproductive justice nonprofit. 

In a co-authored op-ed with author and business owner Francis McInerney, we write that after the Roe reversal women are now “wards of a state which will dictate the medical advice women must take. As wards, women in states banning choice will no longer be full U.S. citizens. They will be put ‘in their place’ meaning to make women aware that they are not as important, respected, or influential.”

Anti-abortion states now own the women living there, owning them as property and giving them no choice, no privacy, no options, except to leave the state they call home.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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