'NBC Left Field' Documentary Highlights Those Seeking to Circumvent Abortion Regulations

June 4th, 2019 7:12 PM

On Tuesday's MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, co-host Ali Velshi hyped a story that came literally and metaphorically out of left field. With the context of Missouri's last abortion providing clinic in court over its license not being renewed, Velshi introduced a new documentary produced by Katie Engelhart of the unintentionally, but appropriately named NBC Left Field that documents how women are using the internet to acquire self-inducing abortion drugs.



The segment then turned to a video clip with Engelhart narrating how women are accessing abortion pills online. Engelhart talked to a woman named Necolie who told a story about being $500 in the hole and that if she did not have a self-induced abortion, that she would have felt like, "I would have died or my kids would have got neglected."

Engelhart also talked up Dutch Doctor Rebecca Gomperts who had previously claimed fame by performing abortions on a boat where abortion was illegal. Now, Gomperts is importing abortion pills into the U.S. which has led the FDA to send her a letter, demanding she cease the importation of the pills. "In response, Dr. Gomperts says she doesn't intend to stop what she's doing," Engelhart declared.

At the end of the clip, Engelhart joined Velshi in the studio for further discussion. In the video, Engelgart described self-induced abortion's legality as "complicated," but told Velshi that the procedure is "illegal."

She lamented the heavy emphasis on the legality of abortion restrictions and the battle over Roe v. Wade, because it "overlooks something important, which is that for many people, particularly low-income women, Roe v. Wade has never led to safe and affordable abortion access. And so a lot of women have been forced to find the medical care they need outside of medical or a legal setting."

After talking about how safe the pills are, Velshi thanked Engelhart "for doing this." During the entire segment that included preview of the documentary, no pro-life perspective was heard, whether it had been Engelhart, Velshi, or anyone else interviewed in the video.

Here is a transcript for the June 4 segment:

MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle
June 4, 2019
1:45 p.m. Eastern

ALI VELSHI: Welcome back to "Velshi & Ruhle” a judge will soon decide whether or not Missouri will be the first state in the country without an abortion clinic. Lawyers from Planned Parenthood are back in court today, fighting the state over refusing to renew its clinic's license. Now a new NBC Left Field documentary looks at what happens when women struggle to access abortion services and how they are turning to the internet instead. Katie Engelhart has the story. 


COMPUTER VOICE: Do you have an unwanted pregnancy of less than nine weeks? 

KATIE ENGELHART: As more states criminalize or restrict abortion access, some people imagine a world where abortion is illegal again. They talk about a return to back alley procedures and coat hangers. This overlooks something important. Some women are already giving themselves abortions at home. 

ENGELHART: Was there moment where you thought, I need and want to have an abortion? 

NECOLIE: It was just like, it was really difficult to get to that point, especially as someone who, you know, has been a Republican voter. I was Catholic. Like, I just didn't believe in that from anyone, much less myself. The closest clinic to me was three hours away. Where is the gas going to come from? Who's going to watch my kids? 

ENGELHART The average abortion at ten weeks or less costs around $500. In some states, including Florida, Medicaid and some insurance companies are banned from covering it. 

NECOLIE: At the time, my bank account was negative $500 and that was negative $500 just so we could keep the lights on. 

ENGELHART: Eventually, you found something on the internet? 

NECOLIE: I immediately went on to their website, filled out their questionnaire, they said, “we'll help you, and it's about 95 bucks.”

ENGELHART: There are dozens of websites marketing abortion medication. But a couple of months ago, I noticed women talking online on message boards and subreddits about this new website, which was different from the others, because it's run by a doctor in Europe. Dr. Gomperts became famous in the '90s for giving abortions on a boat to women in countries where abortion was illegal. Later, when medication became more available, she switched tactics and started prescribing abortion pills. At first, it didn't occur to her that women in the United States would seek out her services, because, after all, abortion is legal across the country. But then she started getting letters from American women. 

REBECCA GOMPERTS: The last email that I received was from a girl that wants to go to a local planned parenthood, but the boyfriend tracked her location and showed up at the clinic. 

ENGELHART: In March, the FDA issued a warning letter to AidAccess, ordering her to immediately cease her activities, saying that she was introducing unapproved drugs into the country. In response, Dr. Gomperts says she doesn't intend to stop what she's doing. 

NECOLIE: It's a very painful process. Since I had obtained the medication in kind of a gray area sort of way, I was afraid to go to my doctor and get checked out. 

ENGELHART: At best, the legality of self-induced abortion is complicated. 

JILL ADAMS: We know of at least 21 people throughout the U.S. Who have been arrested and some imprisoned for either allegedly ending their own pregnancy or helping someone they love do so. 

NECOLIE: I felt like if I hadn't done it, I would have died or my kids would have got neglected. I know in will be difficult for most people to hear or understand, but I felt absolutely no remorse. 


VELSHI: NBC Left Field reporter and producer Katie Engelhart joins me now. Katie, did you get any sense of how common this is? 

ENGELHART: Yes, so there's not great data on this, because self-induced abortion is illegal, it's really hard to poll women about it. There was this interesting study in Texas that found that 7% of abortion patients, abortion patients had tried to give themselves an abortion at home before going to a clinic. And the author after that study actually told me he thinks that number will increase as more states restrict or criminalize abortion. But I think there's an important point to make here. We're increasingly asking the questions, what happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned. And that's an important question to engage with, but it overlooks something important, which is that for many people, particularly low-income women, Roe v. Wade has never led to safe and affordable abortion access. And so a lot of women have been forced to find the medical care they need outside of medical or a legal setting. 

VELSHI: And sometimes that's inherently dangerous. What is this? I mean, you did show a woman who was a doctor overseas who is helping some of these women. But I assume from your piece that some women can get these medications without going through a doctor. 

ENGELHART: Yeah. So abortion medication itself is very safe. There's about a 0.3% chance of a serious complication, which is why it's available to women in the United States to women why it's available to women in the United States under 10 weeks pregnant as an alternative to surgical abortion. Now, what doctors worry about is that because women have been prosecuted for self-inducing abortion. Some may be afraid to go to their doctors in the event of a rare medical crisis. 

VELSHI: It couldn't have been easy to find these women to talk. 

ENGELHART: It wasn't. I spent a lot of months on various subreddits and message boards where I found women getting together in real time and giving each other advice and tips. Things like “Is this website safe to order medication from? or I've lost this much blood, is that a normal amount of blood to use during a medication abortion?” and through that site I connected with a handful of women and eventually flew to Florida to meat Necolie.

VELSHI: What a remarkable story, thank you Katie for doing this.

ENGELHART: Thank you for having me

VELSHI: Katie Engelhart is a reporter and producer for NBC Left Field. You can watch the full documentary at youtube.com/nbcleftfield.