life after roe

What to Know About Stocking Up on the Abortion Pill

Photo: James Keyser/Getty Images

Earlier today, the Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for states across America to severely restrict — or even outright ban — abortion access. Although the news was largely expected, it still sent shock waves through the nation, sending people scrambling to figure out how they’re going to get an abortion — even if they’re not currently pregnant. In early May, when Politico revealed that the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, providers saw a spike in requests for the abortion pill, and “when asked the reason for the abortion, they were saying, ‘Well, the SCOTUS leak,’” says Elisa Wells, co-founder and co-director of Plan C, an online database of abortion-pill providers. “I think they’re going to see a surge again starting today.”

Although most providers only dispense abortion pills to pregnant people, some, like Aid Access and Forward Midwifery, offer a service called advance provision, where pills are prescribed in case they are ever needed. Although the practice isn’t widely available at present, Wells suspects that more providers will start making it an option now that Roe has been overturned. Which may leave you wondering: Should you be stocking abortion pills in your own medicine cabinet? And if you do, what are the risks?

Why should I stock abortion pills?

One of the trickiest aspects of abortion is that it’s a time-sensitive procedure: The longer you wait to have one, the more complicated it can get. If you live in a state where abortion is legal, it can still take time to get the money you need to pay for an abortion and make an appointment or order your pills. And if you live in a state where abortion is heavily restricted or outright illegal, it’s even more complicated. Although Aid Access will ship abortion pills anywhere in the United States, getting those pills can take time: Some Aid Access orders are shipped by pharmacies in India and can take up to three weeks to arrive. For a pregnant person, that could be three weeks they don’t have. Abortion pills work best when taken early in pregnancy and are only recommended up to 11 weeks (although some experts note that the mifepristone-misoprostol combo can still work up to 13 weeks, and misoprostol alone can be used up to 20 weeks, though the risk of complications increases with every week).

Advance provision alleviates that issue. If you have abortion pills in your medicine cabinet, you can take them as soon as you realize you’re pregnant. “Why wouldn’t you want to have some pills in your medicine cabinet that you could take as soon as you have a late period?” says Wells. It’s already common for people to keep pain relievers, cold medication, and even emergency contraception on hand just in case they ever need them. Why wouldn’t you do the same thing with abortion pills?

How long do abortion pills last?

The official shelf life of misoprostol is about two years. For mifepristone, it’s five years. Though, as with all medications, it’s possible the pills will remain effective past their expiration date.

Is it safe to stock abortion pills?

Medically, yes. Abortion pills are vastly safer than some medications you might already have in your medicine cabinet, like Tylenol. “As long as you understand how to use the pills and have access to follow-up care in the rare event that you might need it, it’s not really a medical risk,” says Wells. (Not sure how to use abortion pills? Here are resources that can help.)

Legally, it’s more complicated. As of now, keeping pills in your medicine cabinet is unlikely to get you in trouble, and even using them isn’t necessarily illegal. The majority of anti-abortion laws target providers, not patients, so self-managed abortion is theoretically protected by law. But overzealous prosecutors have found a variety of creative ways to punish people for managing their fertility, and as the legal landscape shifts post-Roe, it’s entirely possible new laws will crop up that make navigating advance provision and self-managed abortion even more difficult. Stay up to date on local laws, especially if you’re in a state that’s hostile to abortion rights. And if you’re stocking up on pills with the intention of providing them to friends in need, you could be entering even murkier legal territory: Providing abortion pills to someone else could be construed as practicing medicine without a license, which can land you in jail.

It’s a good idea to brush up on your digital security before you go searching for pills to reduce the chances of creating a digital footprint of your abortion. And if you have questions about the legal risks of stocking abortion pills and self-managed abortion, the Repro Legal Helpline is a great resource to turn to — and their partner project, the Repro Legal Defense Fund, provides legal support for people who are criminalized for self-managing abortion.

What else should I know about advance provision?

Although self-managing an abortion is medically safe, it can still be a confusing and emotional experience — particularly if you don’t know what to expect. Wells recommends connecting with the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline, a confidential service that connects patients to clinicians who can offer advice on self-managing abortion and miscarriage. (For even more confidentiality, use an encrypted messaging service like Signal to contact them.)

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What to Know About Stocking Up on the Abortion Pill