A paper bag containing the mifepristone and misoprostol pills used for a chemical abortion. CNS photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters

Health Canada finds no wrong in online abortion pill

  • April 16, 2024

Health Canada has determined a Canadian non-profit doesn’t directly distribute drugs despite the organization’s claim to have provided the abortion pill to over 100,000 women. 

After an enquiry last month from The Catholic Register, Health Canada opened an investigation on Women on Web. In an April 10 email, Health Canada told the Register it had concluded Women on Web does “not directly provide medical services, nor sell, distribute, prescribe, import or export any drugs (including mifepristone and misoprostol pills)” and that “as such, non-compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and/or its regulations was not identified.”

Questions remain however as to why a non-profit that does not serve the Canadian population chose to move its base of operations from the Netherlands to Canada in 2016.

Women on Web did not respond to email questions about the reasons behind the 2016 decision to “move” to Toronto.

Women on Web International Foundation was started in 2005 by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a high-profile Dutch abortion activist responsible for several projects that seek to circumvent national or local policies on abortion.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the man partially credited with the decriminalization of abortion in Canada, was an original board member.

According to its website, Women on Web seeks to “transcend national borders and reach the most restricted settings with safe abortion services.”

In an unexplained move, the Dutch organization incorporated as a Canadian non-profit in 2016. Richard Owen, lawyer and Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, was first board chair of the Canadian iteration.

Canadian women are not the target market of either Women on Web or a related organization called Aid Access as there are no legal restrictions on the practice of abortion in Canada and associated costs of both surgical and chemical abortions are covered in all provinces and territories. 

Two years later, spurred she says by an increase in requests for the abortion pill following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, Gomperts began Aid Access as a U.S. spin-off 

Women on Web sends abortion pills manufactured by the Indian firm Synokem Pharma. The drugs are brought to market by DKT India, a subsidiary of DKT International, a non-profit organization that is one of the largest private providers of contraceptives in the developing world. DKT is funded by numerous European governments, including the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, as well by private foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and various branches of the United Nations.

Both the Women on Web and Aid Access websites map out a three-step process for women with Internet access and a postal address to receive the abortion pill. After a short online consultation and a “donation” of “90 Euros or less” a prescription is provided “within 24 hours” and the abortion pills are shipped to the home. The suggested donation is about a third of the real cost, about $325 CAD per course.

Aid Access is legally based in Austria where Gomperts is licensed to practice medicine. In 2022, Gomperts told Ms. Magazine that though Aid Access has a team of clinicians to review the consultations, she is “the only prescribing physician outside the U.S. at the moment.” Gomperts also said that the online consultation is sufficient to determine whether women can safely use the drugs.

Gomperts, who resigned as executive director of Women on Web in 2021, is committed to her belief that abortion is a fundamental human right. In the same Ms. interview Gomperts said, “It doesn’t matter what kind of obstacles there are, whether it’s legal, financial, logistical, personal, private, preference — it doesn’t matter. Abortion should be available on your own terms, however you need it, whenever you need it, and in whatever way you need it.” 

Owens told the Register that, “I’m now very much retired. I may not reveal knowledge of WOW’s history and decisions because of ongoing duties of confidentiality.” 

When Gomperts stepped down from the leadership role at Women on Web, Owens said, “to have the opportunity to work with such a strong and charismatic leader as Rebecca Gomperts has been a great privilege and opportunity. No one exceeds her in creativity and devotion.” 

Part of that creativity seems evident in Gomperts ability to craft a Canadian-incorporated organization that provides prescriptions from an Austrian-licensed, Dutch physician for drugs manufactured in India and distributed by a transnational NGO funded by Bill Gates and the United Nations Population Fund.

Health Canada noted that Women on Web “has been informed of our findings.” 

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