Sally Kaye: Abortion Options Remain On The Internet — For Now

Sally Kaye: Abortion Options Remain On The Internet — For Now

When my family left Honolulu for Lanai in 1974, Hawaiian Airlines offered one daily DC-9 flight, there were a few flights on Royal Hawaiian Air Service’s small-kine Cessnas, no ferry, and only three network TV channels. No FedEX, no UPS and if you wanted chicken, you got it in 2-pound frozen boxes. A Sears catalog was how you organized your off-island purchases, from Christmas presents to clothing to appliances.

It goes without saying there was no internet.

I bet I’m not alone in thinking I could go back to that life – except that living without internet access would be unthinkable. After two-plus years of pandemic restrictions and isolation, there’s no question the internet and all the data, information and products available through it are now even more crucial to our lives than ever.

Take telehealth for example.

Not only did telehealth become mainstream so we could talk to our doctors wherever they were without risk, but as the pandemic grew in 2020 the US Food and Drug Administration took proactive steps to make generic drugs more available — through the internet.

And as of December, we can now obtain medication to end an unwanted pregnancy in the privacy of our own homes – courtesy of the internet.

After reviewing what is called a “risk evaluation and mitigation strategy” for the drug mifepristone, the FDA decided to remove previous requirements that the drug be given only in a clinic, hospital or by a certified medical provider — even though the patient could then take the medication home and ingest it by herself.

Apparently the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had for some time been of the opinion that FDA requirements “disproportionately burdened communities already facing structural barriers to care, including people of color and those living long distances from a health care professional.”

That sound like Hawaii to you? It certainly defines Lanai and most of Maui County.

I did an internet search and easily found two sites where one can obtain the pregnancy-ending medication and view related resources.

One is Aid Access founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts in 2018, which operates in the US but does so from an international location. The second, Abortion On Demand, registered as a business in Hawaii in March and launched telehealth services in April.

Since then, AOD’s founder, Dr. Jamie Phifer, said they “see a handful of Hawaii patients daily, a higher portion relative to the state population than the larger states we serve.”

According to Leah Coplon, director of clinical operations, AOD only operates in the 22 states where abortion is still legal, and complies with requirements in each of those states, such as filing reports with departments of health. Although the organization doesn’t reveal specific numbers or track island-by-island inquiries, she said AOD has developed relationships with local clinics here in Hawaii should patients need follow-up care.

If someone contacts them about alternatives, AOD recommends All-Options, which she described as “an excellent internet resource, with no agenda, that provides a wide range of services” from adoption information to diaper support. (Diapers, as every parent knows, are a necessity, but one apparently not covered by food stamps, WIC or welfare benefits.) Coplon said most of those who contact AOD do so through an internet search or after reading about options at Plan C, a purely educational resource.

AOD’s website is a no-frills, no-judgment space because the staff feels “whatever the reason is for ending a pregnancy, it’s the right reason. We don’t judge, we just support.” AOD donates 60% of its profits to support brick-and-mortar clinics for pregnant women past the point where medicinal abortion is an option, and Coplon said if Roe v. Wade is overturned, “I don’t know what the impact will be but we will continue to provide options in those states where abortion remains legal.”

Supreme Court rally abortion rights Roe v.  Wade Mississippi
Abortion-rights advocates rally outside the Supreme Court about a case that could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. Courtesy: Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui/2021

Then There Are The Other Guys

I started thinking about the internet and choices when I happened upon action plans posted by a candidate for Hawaii lieutenant governor, Seaula Jr. Tupai. One of them, listed under “support women’s rights,” clearly indicates this candidate intends to do just the opposite: he would limit an unhappily pregnant woman’s choice to hooking her up with individuals wanting to adopt so he could save “the lives they carry in their wombs.” He mentions no exceptions.

And there are places on the internet like Abort73.com, an “educational resource” whose sole employee, based in South Carolina, told me it doesn’t “generally interact with pregnant women on a one-to-one basis” and less than 1% of its web traffic in 2021 came from Hawaii. A visit to the site shows you can find a hefty dose of judgment here, and aside from donations Abort73 sells gear to support itself.

I hope some of you saw the recently released movie “The Last Duel,” a true story of a woman’s claim to have been sexually assaulted in late 1300s France. During a trial of the accused, a cleric offered this jaw-dropping line: “A rape cannot cause pregnancy. This is just science!” (The film is available on the internet from Amazon.)

Of course this is a tale from a time when women were the property of their fathers or their husbands. So, shocking as such idiocy sounds to us now – now that we can have our own credit cards and own our own homes – should we feel relief that was then and this is now? I think not.

It’s been over 600 years, and some men are still making this absurd claim.

In 1980, Leon Holmes (a recently retired federal judge from Arkansas) proposed a constitutional ban on abortion based on the notion that “conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami;” former Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Freind agreed in 1988 (an assaulted woman “secretes a certain secretion” that kills sperm); North Carolina’s Henry Aldridge said so in 1995 (women “who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow” so they can’t get pregnant); and Missouri’s Todd Akin said it again as recently as 2012 (women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape”).

Leaving aside for a sec what could possibly constitute a “legitimate” rape, science tells a different story: according to a 1996 study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, over 32,000 women get pregnant every year due to rape, and in 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 3 million women in the US experience rape-related pregnancies in their lifetimes. I’m betting they might fall into the unhappily pregnant group, wouldn’t you?

I will save what I learned about adoption in Hawaii for a future column. For now I am just grateful for the internet and laws that allow the choice it offers.

I hope you are too.

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