CNN on Tuesday promoted an illegal abortion scheme that experts say could boost a dangerous black market for abortion pills.
CNN host Poppy Harlow interviewed the head of Plan C, a group that connects women with unregulated overseas pharmacies that mail chemical abortion pills to the United States—an illegal practice that skirts federal regulations. Elisa Wells, the cofounder of the group, encouraged women to obtain the pills without medical supervision or follow-up visit, even though chemical abortion pills have roughly four times the complication rate of surgical abortions.
"What I'm saying is in common practice, that most people are not doing the follow-up visit," Wells told Harlow. "They don't need them."
The group's website, however, admits it "cannot guarantee" the illegal pharmacies it refers "will be reliable."
Plan C's black-market network operates alongside the thriving FDA-regulated chemical abortion pill industry. Chemical abortions outpaced surgical abortions for the first time in 2020, two decades after the pill was first approved. Still, women turn to unregulated pharmacies like those promoted by Plan C to avoid doctor visits or obtain the pills in advance of a pregnancy. Many states require women to take FDA-approved pills in the presence of a doctor and return for a visit after a designated time period.
President Joe Biden directed his agencies to increase access to chemical abortion pills in response to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. The Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday outlined a plan to explore how federal law can maximize access to these pills and ensure federal programs will cover them.
Wells said there is no reason for women to inform doctors that they took abortion pills when they seek medical care for side effects such as intense bleeding or lingering fetal remains.
"There's no information that the clinician needs to have," Wells said on CNN. "They do not need to know that you've taken abortion pills in order to provide safe follow-up treatment."
But a recent Charlotte Lozier Institute study showed that women who failed to disclose they took abortion pills during an emergency room visit averaged more than three in-patient hospital admissions to treat subsequent complications—a 78 percent higher rate than women who did disclose. Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate at the institute, said groups such as Plan C overlook this data because they value advocacy over science.
"Women deserve to know the facts about the abortion pill, and unfortunately, they won't find them in this CNN interview," Longbons told the Washington Free Beacon. "Mailing women abortion pills with no medical oversight is literally playing games with a woman's health."
CNN is not the only media outlet to promote the chemical abortion pill industry in recent weeks. New York magazine published a piece in June that encouraged women to take abortion pills and lie to doctors. Several mainstream outlets have featured Aid Access, another abortion pill network, as the model group on how to provide unregulated abortion pills in areas with limited abortion access.
The FDA in December made permanent its pandemic-era decision to allow mail-in orders of abortion pills. The agency justified the decision by citing its adverse event database, which does not require reports from emergency rooms, where women often go to seek care after complications from the drugs.
Federal agencies under former president Donald Trump attempted to crack down on the abortion pill black market. The FDA in 2019 sent Aid Access a cease-and-desist letter in an attempt to counter the illegal scheme. These efforts stalled after the group filed a lawsuit.