Mayday Health helps patients get abortion pills in banned states

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln has amassed nearly 3 million followers on TikTok with her candid and educational videos about sex, abortion and reproductive care. And soon, she told TIME, the Oregon-based OB-GYN will take on a new role as executive director of Mayday Health, a health education association founded as a result of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health to help patients in states that have banned abortion figure out how to get an abortion anyway.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Lincoln said in a phone call during a break from her work and birth shift. “When you know that, you know how to protect yourself, and that’s true reproductive freedom.”

Lincoln and Mayday are on the front lines of the next battle for abortion rights: the information war. Mayday was launched the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade for the simple purpose of raising awareness about abortion pills, two doctor-prescribed drugs that, when taken less than 48 hours apart during the first trimester, can safely terminate a pregnancy. For patients living in states where abortion is banned, Mayday outlines the step-by-step process for obtaining the pills, by mail or ordering from abroad, and provides medical information on the safety and reliability of abortion. drugs in the country. first trimester of pregnancy.

“The most valuable message anyone can spread is to tell the people of these states how they can still make decisions about their own bodies,” says Sam Koppelman, Democratic speechwriter and co-founder of Mayday. “It’s basically an information battle.”

Read more: Republican states crack down on access to abortion pills.

Many abortion opponents have turned away from shutting down abortion clinics to trying to shut down accessible reproductive health information. A proposed bill in South Carolina would make it illegal “to aid, abet or conspire with anyone to obtain an abortion” or “to advertise the sale or distribution of an abortifacient”. This bill closely reflects a Blueprint of the National Right to Life Committee develop an “effective enforcement regime” to eliminate abortions, which recommends prohibiting “giving instructions by telephone, Internet or any other means” or “hosting or maintaining a website, or providing an Internet service, which encourages or facilitates” efforts to obtain illegal abortions.

Even if these laws are not passed or are successfully challenged in court, the wave of new restrictions on abortion has reduced sources of reliable reproductive health information. Doctors across the country are caught in a legal limbo about how to counsel patients who need abortions. Library workers in Oklahoma were told they could be fined $10,000 for helping clients find abortion information. The Blocked University of Idaho staff refer students to abortion providers or emergency contraceptives. In Nebraska, a wife is being sued after police obtained a private Facebook message in which the mother advised her daughter on how to take abortion pills.

Read more: Inside Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic.

So while other reproductive rights groups focus on litigation, election organizing, or funding travel for abortions, Mayday focuses on providing information that women in many states no longer can. get reliably from their doctors. Two weeks after the last abortion clinic in Mississippi closed, Mayday set up three billboards in Jackson saying “Pregnant? You Always Have a Choice” with a link to their website; after the Attorney General sent them a subpoena asking them to remove the billboards, Mayday added 20 more across the state. When Idaho’s flagship university blocked staff from discussing abortion or emergency contraception, Mayday responded by driving a digital billboard around campus: “They don’t want you to. know: you can still get abortion pills in the mail,” he read, and guaranteed. outside the football stadium on a Saturday evening.

The 501(c)(3) organization has partnered with social media influencers like Dr. Lincoln and posted ads on Pandora targeting key demographic groups who may need abortions. It is particularly focused on low- to middle-income women ages 18 to 44 who live in states that heavily restrict abortion. Koppelman says the goal is to reach patients as they research their options. In states that ban abortion, “if you search for ‘how to get abortion pills’, or ‘i need an abortion’ or ‘i need to terminate a pregnancy’, Mayday appears at the top of the results research,” he said. said.

Abortion pills are not new. More than 50% of all abortions in the United States in 2020 were medical abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But since deer was reversed, requests for abortion pills surged: a published study in the medical journal JAMA found that requests for abortion pills from the international telemedicine organization Aid Access jumped by 83 a day before the Dobbs decision to an average of nearly 214 requests per day, with much of the request coming from states that ban abortion.

In 2021, the FDA has permanently changed a regulation requiring mifepristone to be obtained in person, meaning the two pills that produce medical abortion – mifepristone and misoprostol – can now be mailed. And yet, especially in states where abortion clinics have closed and where crisis-ridden pregnancy centers are spreading misinformation about abortion, many patients don’t know the pills are safe or how to get them.

Read more: Anti-abortion pregnancy centers collect tons of data that could be used against women.

“We kept hearing from groups, activists, advocates that abortion pills were going to be the future in a post-Roe era, but very few people knew about them,” says Olivia Raisner, a digital strategist Democrat who co-founded Mayday with Koppelman and Nathaniel Horwitz. “A lot of bands couldn’t take the risk of getting the word out.”

Even though the pills themselves may now be illegal in some states, these state laws cannot prohibit an out-of-state group from providing general information about them. The founders of Mayday say they believe their message is protected speech under the First Amendment. The organization does not prescribe, supply or even manage abortion pills, Raisner says, which means they cannot be accused of advertising or selling them.

But while Mayday argues that their digital advertising and billboards are constitutionally protected, some legal scholars warn that conservative justices may disagree. “They should be protected by the First Amendment, but am I really convinced that the current Supreme Court agrees with me? No, not really,” says Mary Ziegler, a professor at UC-Davis School of Law who writes on abortion politics. “I think the law of when ‘complicity’ begins and where constitutional protections come into play can be a little fuzzy.”

The fact that Mayday does not sell or manufacture abortion pills itself provides some legal cover, says Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who has written several books on free speech. “If all they are doing is telling people how to get the pills, but not selling them, then it’s not commercial advertising and they would be more likely to be protected,” says Stone.

For Mayday, publicizing the safety and effectiveness of abortion pills is the best way to ensure that patients can access abortion even in states where it is now illegal. “We know that these restrictive laws will not decrease abortion. They’re just going to make them dangerous and more dangerous,” says Dr. Lincoln. “We can’t tell people anything, or we can use free speech to direct people to resources that are out there, and people can decide what they want to do for themselves.”

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Write to Charlotte Alter at [email protected].

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