The panic started as soon as Jayda took the test in early July. It came back positive, and a quick calculation suggested she was seven weeks pregnant. It was a bad time. Her mom had just died, and Florida, the state where she lived, had introduced restrictions in April that prohibited people from using telehealth appointments to access abortion pills. Jayda, who is in her late 20s and asked to be identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy, tried to book an in-person appointment with Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides sexual health care across the US. But the wait time was two weeks. “That seemed like a lifetime away,” she says.
Instead she turned to the unregulated world of websites selling abortion pills, or MTP kits—a combination of two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, used to end pregnancies. As restrictions in US states have tightened, a cross-continental network of companies and nonprofits has sprung up to ship these pills to places where access is restricted. Some are motivated by ideology, others by profit and opportunism. But all fall into a legal gray area, where regulators appear unable or unwilling to assert authority.
Jayda found out about this network after frantic Googling lead her to a website called Plan C, which lists online pharmacies that ship abortion pills into US states. She poured over the options. “I was in a panic,” she says. “I wanted the pills as soon as possible and didn’t want to pay a fortune for them, but I also wanted them to be as legit as possible.”
One online pharmacy, AbortionRX, stood out. Stock images of grinning women illustrated the website’s homepage, and the text felt clunky, as if written by someone who wasn’t fluent in English. But AbortionRX promised to get the pills to Florida within eight days in exchange for $250. Women on Reddit had shared their positive experiences. “Website looks a little sketchy but they’re legit,” one post read. That was the reassurance Jayda needed. She clicked “order now” and paid.
AbortionRX’s web address was registered from Amsterdam, according to domain registrar data. The packaging suggested that the pills Jayda received included one 200 mg mifepristone tablet and four 200 mg misoprostol tablets, and had been manufactured by the Indian drug giant Zydus. They had been shipped from India to an unknown location in the US, where they sat waiting for a buyer. AbortionRX did not reply to multiple requests for comment, but when WIRED asked a customer service representative where the pills were shipped from, the person responded: “We ship US to US.” Jayda’s pills were posted in an unassuming small brown envelope with a California return address.
“We do not own this product and currently we are not marketing it in India or in any other geography,” a Zydus spokesperson said when asked about the company’s connection to abortion pills featuring Zydus branding.
“Most of the pills that we see are from Indian manufacturers,” says Elisa Wells, cofounder and codirector of Plan C. “They might be coming directly from those companies, but I suspect not. I suspect there’s somebody entrepreneurial who has set up this pharmacy site and is somehow buying pills in bulk and shipping them out.” Abortion pills in many countries can be bought off pharmacy shelves for around $5, she says.
One of those entrepreneurs is a man who goes by the alias Chris Jones. Jones, who declined to give his real name in case his operation becomes illegal, runs the website Medside24, which is also listed by Plan C. He started the business in Moscow before moving to Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty, after Russia invaded Ukraine. All of the company’s clients are in the US, he says, and most of them are being referred from Plan C. Medside24 sells an average of 15 abortion kits a day at what Jones describes as a 50 percent profit margin.