What happened when one woman tried to make safe and cheap abortion pills available through the mail.
For two years, before she headed off to her full-time job as a web developer, or after she put her daughter to bed at night, Ursula Wing ran a business selling abortion pills from the bedroom of her New York City apartment. The 40-year-old single mother would fill orders that had been submitted through her website, dropping a piece of inexpensive jewelry into a mailer with a return address for “Fatima’s Bead Basket.” Hidden behind a panel taped inside were one tablet of mifepristone and four tablets of misoprostol.
Unlike many people involved in the underground movement to help women defy increasingly limited access to abortion providers, Wing did not originally think of herself as an activist. She began this work because she needed money to pay legal fees during a protracted custody dispute with her former partner. She knew there was a need out there. In 2012 she had written on her blog, the Macrobiotic Stoner, about terminating her own pregnancy with pills she’d bought online, and women regularly posted comments asking for help to do the same. So in May 2016, Wing launched a “secret bodega” page, where customers could buy a medication abortion kit, no consultation or prescription needed, for $85 with expedited shipping. Over the next two years, she would serve more than 2,000 customers.
Wing told no one about her entry into the global network of unregulated suppliers of abortion medications. She posted a link to the store in the comments section of her blog but otherwise did not advertise. “I did not want to be found too easily,” she says. “And I know that any woman who was online looking for this stuff—she will read through the 40th page of Google results until she finds what she’s looking for.”
In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone, making reliable pregnancy termination by pills a reality. A medication abortion typically involves taking mifepristone followed by misoprostol within a two-day period. As of 2014, the two-drug method was used in nearly 45 percent of abortions initiated in clinics within the first nine weeks of gestation. Selfinduced abortion is banned in seven states, and mifepristone is strictly regulated by the FDA. It may be distributed only in a clinical setting by a certified provider.
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