The panic started as soon as Jayda took the test in early July. It came back positive and a quick calculation indicated she was seven weeks pregnant. It was a bad time. Her mother had just died, and Florida, the state where she lived, had imposed restrictions in April which banned people from using telecommunications health agreements to access abortion pills. Jayda, who is in her late 20s and asked to be identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy, tried to book a personal agreement with Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides sexual health care throughout the United States. But the wait was two weeks. “It seemed like a lifetime away,” she says.
Instead, she turned to the unregulated world of websites selling abortion pills or MTP kits – a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, used to terminate pregnancies. As restrictions in U.S. states have been tightened, a cross-continental network of companies and nonprofits has emerged to ship these pills to places where access is restricted. Some are motivated by ideology, others by profit and opportunism. But everyone falls into a legal gray area where regulators seem to be unable or unwilling to assert authority.
Jayda found out about this network after hectic google led her to a site called Plan C, which shows online pharmacies that send abortion pills to US states. She rolled over the possibilities. “I was panicking,” she says. “I wanted the pills as soon as possible and did not want to pay a fortune for them, but I also wanted them to be as legitimate as possible.”
An online pharmacy, AbortRX, stood out. Stock images of grinning women illustrated the website’s website, and the text felt clumsy, as if it was written by someone who does not speak fluent English. But AbortRX promised to get the pills to Florida within eight days in exchange for $ 250. Women on Reddit had shared their positive experiences. “The website looks a little skewed, but they are legal,” read a post. That was the security Jayda needed. She clicked “order now” and paid.
AbortRX’s URL was registered from Amsterdam, according to domain registrar data. The packaging indicated that the pills Jayda received included one 200 mg mifepristone tablet and four 200 mg misoprostol tablets and had been manufactured by the Indian pharmaceutical giant Zydus. They had been shipped from India to an unknown location in the United States, where they were waiting for a buyer. AbortionRX did not respond to further requests for comment, but when WIRED asked a customer service representative where the pills were sent from, the person replied, “We are sending the United States to the United States.” Jayda’s pills were placed in a modest little brown envelope with a California return address.
“We do not own this product and at the moment we do not market it in India or any other geography,” a Zydus spokesman said when asked about the company’s connection to abortion pills with Zydus branding.
“Most of the pills we see are from Indian manufacturers,” says Elisa Wells, co-founder and co-director of Plan C. “They may come directly from these companies, but I do not suppose. I suppose there is an entrepreneur, who created this pharmacy site and somehow buys pills in bulk and sends them out. ” Abortion pills in many countries can be purchased on pharmacy shelves for about $ 5, she says.
One of these entrepreneurs is a man who goes by the alias Chris Jones. Jones, who declined to give his real name if his operation becomes illegal, runs the website Medside24, which is also listed in Plan C. He started the company in Moscow before moving to Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty, after Russia invaded Ukraine. All of the company’s customers are in the United States, he says, and most of them are referred from Plan C. Medside24 sells an average of 15 abortion kits a day at what Jones describes as a 50 percent profit margin.