Women in more than 70 countries, especially those living in countries with tight restrictions, are using the Internet to obtain pills for do-it-yourself abortions, according to a study published this week in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The study looked at women across the world who used the Web site, Women on Web, which is available in five languages and offers the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone is sold in the U.S. as RU-486 and misoprostol is sold as Cytotec and is commonly used for the prevention of gastrointestinal bleeding in the U.S.
The site says ingesting a combination of pills containing these two ingredients causes the non-surgical termination of a pregnancy and can be used up to the ninth week of pregnancy.
Although the site claims to help women "gain access to a safe abortion with pills in order to reduce the number of deaths due to unsafe abortions," the study found some troubling results.
Eleven percent of 400 customers studied went on to need a surgical procedure after taking the two drugs obtained on the Web site, either because the drugs had not completed the abortion or because of excessive bleeding.
Of 200 women who answered questions about their experiences, almost 60 percent said they were just grateful to have been able to have an abortion in this way with 30 percent finding it stressful but an acceptable experience.
Customers must answer 25 questions on the Web site before they are allowed to purchase the drugs, and women are advised to have a pregnancy test and an ultrasound if possible.
Women are allowed to upload messages about their experience using the site. An American woman who used the site while living in Thailand wrote, "I was not very far along, only three or four weeks. It went smoothly for me. "I think it's very important women have this resource to turn to in that situation and they can need it for a number of reasons."