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Abortion Pill Activists Feel Like They’re ‘Running a Drug Cartel in Order to Help People’

It's a simple lifesaving tool that's being outlawed across the country.
Plan C documentary
Plan C. Suppled / Photo by Bobby Moser

In the opening scene of Plan C, set in the United States in 2022, an unseen voice observes, “We have been seeing triple the amount of orders over the past couple weeks,” while she meticulously counts a number of white pills. “We operate in six states legally and all 50 states illegally.” the voice continues. This is in reference to medication abortion pills, known as Mifepristone, which is used in conjunction with Misoprostol, to help anyone who is pregnant up to 12 weeks safely terminate their pregnancy.

Produced and directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, Plan C is a documentary set in the United States that centers on the ongoing grassroots efforts to provide access to abortion across the country through the distribution of abortion pills in the wake of political and social unrest. Historically, the issue of abortion is one that remains highly controversial in the United States.

In 2022, the Supreme Court infamously overturned the decision held in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion—by way of the individual right to privacy implied by the 14th Amendment—in the US for nearly 50 years. As a result, many states in the United States have passed laws that restrict access to abortion care, making it difficult to gain access to safe and legal abortion services and forcing people to travel to states where abortion is allowed. These laws disproportionately impact low-income populations, people of color, and those who live in rural areas, making it even more difficult for them to access the care they need.

Abortion rights protestor.
Abortion rights protestor. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Plan C follows a group of activists, including co-founder Francine Coeytaux, who are working tirelessly to ensure access to abortion care despite laws that restrict it. Coeytaux and her other co-founder Elisa Wells, have a proven lobbying record and are widely instrumental in ensuring that emergency contraception, Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill), is available in pharmacies nationwide. In response to the legal changes, as well as the attempt to wide access, the documentary sheds light on a world where the inability to access abortion care not only infringes on a woman’s rights but also restricts her ability to make decisions about her own body, especially in situations that could prove dangerous or unsafe to otherwise continue that pregnancy. 

The objectives of the documentary seem to be two-fold: educate viewers on the option of medication abortion pills if they are unaware, and also show the innovative efforts of those on the front line who are simply trying to provide people with access to abortion pills which they can use in the comfort and privacy of their homes. Many don’t know that the abortion pill exists, which is why the team aspires to educate people on how the pill works and where to get it. “I’m not going to be stopped or hindered by the law one way or another,” says one of the organizers early in the documentary. “So you could use medication abortion bills by going on It’s like we’re running a drug cartel in order to help people.”

We also have a huge problem in the US of shaming teen parents and then trying to convince them not to continue the pregnancy.

They are, of course, faced with a number of challenges in their line of work, including backlash from those who feel that these pills are morally corrupt. “Most of my patients are farm workers or work in packing houses. A lot of them are Spanish-speaking only or young parents. I feel bad for the teens who don’t want to be pregnant but can’t access abortion care because of stigma, shame, money, or inability to tell their parents, but we also have a huge problem in the US of shaming teen parents and then trying to convince them not to continue the pregnancy. It’s about what the patient needs though,” explains a midwife in the documentary.

Besides moral and social backlash, there is also the risk of criminal charges for taking abortion medication without the supervision of a medical provider. Such was the case of 26-year-old Liza Herrera, who was arrested after a hospital in Texas passed information to the local sheriff’s office revealing that she had a self-induced abortion. Though as of April 2022, Texas prosecutors dropped the murder charges, Herrera’s case is one of many that have occurred or will occur as a result of legal gateways being opened in response to the legal decision by the Supreme Court. The documentary offers an uncensored glimpse into the ongoing battle to bridge the gap between the blue states work to protect and expand access to abortion care and the red states work to criminalize it. 

Plan C is showing at SXSW on March 12, 14 and 18, 2023. Details on its theatrical or streaming release are unconfirmed.

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