As any recreational drug user on the Dark Web (or man too embarrassed to ask a doctor for boner pills) knows, online sellers offer the same medications otherwise only available by prescription. That can seem like a scary prospect—are they reliable, are the pills real, will they just steal the money? But when one team of researchers tried to get abortion medications online, they found it actually worked. The misoprostol was often lower-concentration than FDA-approved pills in the US, and some of the packages were damaged, but what they got from 16 different online pharmacies tested as chemically the same, and was usually cheaper than going to a clinic.
Online pills might make this next chapter of abortion history better than the last. “That’s not a crazy idea. It’s not necessarily an unsafe thing to do,” says Elizabeth Raymond, an ob-gyn and researcher at Gynuity Health Products who led the online-buying study. “Part of what’s problematic about the situation is, it’s not clearly legal … If a woman orders these pills from overseas, it’s not clear what the legality of that is.” Raymond’s also doing a study now to see how telemedicine and prescriptions for those drugs could help supplant the dwindling number of clinics in the US.