A hidden abortion crew prepares to confront a post-Roe America

Driven underground during the pandemic, online abortion providers say they’ll keep supplying pills and services even if the Supreme Court approves state bans.

For decades, the worst for the pro-abortion-rights activist community was a Supreme Court decision to overrule the 1973 holding in Roe v. Wade, without which many states in the South and some in the West would likely enact bans on abortions. But new technology has complicated those issues, raising the possibility that a robust underground operation could continue to provide abortion pills to women seeking to terminate pregnancies at home.

Even before the Covid-19 lockdown prompted advocates to strengthen their networks, many patients were already self-managing their own abortions. One 2010 survey from the Guttmacher Institute found 2.6 percent of women saying they’d done so — a figure that many activists believe was understated at the time and has almost certainly grown as pills have become increasingly available.

In the event of an adverse Supreme Court decision, experts and activists say, it’s hard to predict how much supply could expand to meet patients’ needs in a post-Roe landscape. But the new restrictions on abortions imposed by states during the pandemic — combined with many women’s reluctance to get care in person for fear of contracting the virus — gave them a taste of how they might approach a post-Roe America.

Even without a sweeping court ruling, current trends are likely to continue as GOP-controlled states erect ever-more-stringent abortion restrictions — even to the extent of providing “private rights of action” for ordinary citizens to enforce such restrictions against friends and neighbors, as Texas has done. Activists believe the effort to enlist average citizens in the fight against abortion is a direct response to fears that more abortions will be conducted at home, outside the gaze of the law.