A longtime local physician turned attorney is asking the federal courts to step in and protect his European client from what he says are constitutional violations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involving the reproductive rights of women throughout the country.
Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who practices medicine and resides in Europe, and her Pocatello attorney Richard Hearn, himself a former doctor, are suing the U.S. government for allegedly blocking her American patients from getting abortions by seizing their abortion-inducing medications and blocking payments from those patients to her web-based company, Aid Access, which Gomperts founded in 2018, according to a press release from Hearn.
The press release was sent out on Monday, the same day Hearn filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Idaho. Neither the FDA nor any other U.S. government agency has yet provided a response to the lawsuit, but such a response will surely be provided in the near future.
“We are asking the federal court to protect my client’s patients, not so much my client because she is protected as a physician,” Hearn told the Journal during a Tuesday phone interview. “This lawsuit has to deal with the constitutional right to choose. We are saying the FDA is violating the rights of Dr. Gomperts’ (U.S.) patients to choose to have an abortion in the early stages by seizing the medicines, threatening to arrest her or her patients and cutting off funds.”
American women seeking abortions generally have two options: A surgical abortion in which the embryo or fetus is physically removed from the womb or a medication-induced abortion in which medications are essentially used to induce a miscarriage in the first few weeks of a pregnancy. Gomperts has recently come under fire for providing patients in the United States with prescriptions for the pills needed for medication-induced abortions. The pills Gomperts prescribes via Aid Access are from a drug company in India.
The FDA sent Gomperts a letter in March warning her that the agency believed she was violating federal law by “introducing into interstate commerce misbranded and unapproved new drugs” because the only FDA approved at-home abortion medication is a drug called Mifeprex, which only specialized doctors in the United States are currently authorized to prescribe.
Gomperts prescribes the abortion-inducing drugs misoprostol and mifepristone.
After she received the FDA’s letter, Gomperts learned the FDA had seized the abortion medications she had prescribed from between three and 10 of her U.S. patients, Hearn wrote in the lawsuit.
“That’s up to 10 women who did not get medicine in time and were left to carry their pregnancy,” Hearn said.
The FDA also blocked the transfer of money between Gomperts’ U.S. patients and her online company, Aid Access, according to the lawsuit.
Hearn asserts in the suit that the FDA’s seizure of the medicine and attempts to block money transfers are violations of Gomperts’ U.S. patients’ “rights to liberty and privacy as guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
In the suit, Hearn wrote that more than 40,000 women have contacted Aid Access since the company began in 2018, including roughly 37,000 women from the United States. Of those, Gomperts has prescribed abortion-inducing drugs to more than 7,000 American women, including roughly 40 women in Idaho, the lawsuit states.
Hearn said that in many cases, the women who solicit services and information from Aid Access are geographically, financially and sometimes socially restricted from access to abortion clinics.
“Access to medical abortions is most restricted in geographically large and primarily rural states like Idaho where the number of physicians certified to prescribe Mifeprex is small,” Hearn wrote in the lawsuit. “The burden of these restrictions imposed by the FDA on medical abortions falls primarily on women who live in rural or medically underserved areas, have low income, are experiencing domestic abuse and/or are young.”
A licensed physician practicing medicine in Europe, Gomperts splits her time between Wien, Austria, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She is the founder and director of Aid Access as well as an organization called Women on Web.
Founded in 2005, Women on Web provides abortion information and prescriptions for abortion pills to women living in countries where safe abortions are not available, Hearn wrote in the lawsuit.
Women on Web has never provided prescriptions for abortion pills to women living in the United States, wrote Hearn, though the organization answers more than 120,000 emails with abortion-related questions from women around the world every year.
“(Gomperts’) patients are most often young, some even as young as 14 years old, poor and powerless,” Hearn wrote in his Monday press release. “They are almost always victims of rape, emotional coercion by men holding power over them and/or physical abuse. For many, obtaining a medical abortion from Dr. Gomperts is not only their best option, it is their only option for safely ending their pregnancies. Dr. Gomperts and Aid Access filed this lawsuit for them.”
On Tuesday, Hearn doubled-down on his press release.
“The practical threat is that the FDA will go after these U.S. women, these 14- or 15-year-old children that are desperate, and intercept these medicines,” Hearn said. “This leaves them with essentially no recourse. That’s not only unconscionable, it’s unconstitutional.”
Hearn included with the lawsuit 11 pages of testimonials from Gomperts’ patients, of which many of the responses evidence the economic and geographic limitations involving the reproductive rights of women throughout the country.
As a father of girls himself, Hearn said it was disheartening to read the comments from Gomperts’ U.S. patients, adding that every girl under 18 who she has assisted had become pregnant as a result of rape.
“As the father of daughters, it was just heart-wrenching,” Hearn said about reading the comments from Gomperts’ U.S. patients. “When you just put yourself in the place of these young girls without power, these women that are abused, it really puts things into perspective. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the U.S. who don’t have the support of loving parents or are afraid for whatever reason. Thank goodness for the internet and people like Dr. Gomperts that can offer them a solution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.