On Sept. 12th, Jennifer Whalen, a 39-year-old mother of three in the rural town of Washingtonville, Pa., went to jail to begin serving a 9-to-18-month sentence. Whalen’s crime was, in effect, ordering pills online that her older daughter took in the first several weeks of an unplanned pregnancy, when she was 16, to induce a miscarriage. The medication was a combination of mifepristone (formerly called RU-486) and misoprostol. The drugs have been available from a doctor with a prescription in the United States since 2000 and are used around the world to induce miscarriage.
Recent research increasingly suggests that early in a pregnancy, women can safely use mifepristone and misoprostol to miscarry at home. (Much more about thishere, in a story I wrote in August). But if the medical risk of this kind of do-it-yourself abortion is relatively small, the legal risk still looms large.