There Are Now Tests That Can Detect If Someone Took Abortion Pills

The chilling development comes out of Poland, where prosecutors have already used the tests to investigate pregnancy outcomes, reports the New York Times.

There Are Now Tests That Can Detect If Someone Took Abortion Pills
Photo:Charlie Riedel, Associated Press (AP)

Scientists in Poland have reportedly developed lab tests that can detect whether people have taken abortion pills—and those tests are already being used to investigate pregnancy outcomes under the country’s abortion ban. This is an alarming development, to say the least, and unfortunately, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before a U.S. state replicates the effort.

According to a bone-chilling piece in the New York Times, Polish scientists have developed tests that can identify both mifepristone and misoprostol, the drugs typically used in a medication abortion. (Though some people do use misoprostol alone.) The studies were part of a research project funded by the Polish government where researchers were able to find evidence of misoprostol in the placenta and mifepristone in a woman’s blood sample. A spokesperson for a prosecutor’s office in Wroclaw confirmed to the Times that Polish authorities have already used the tests to investigate pregnancy outcomes.

Advocates in the U.S. have told people for years that, if they had to go to the hospital after taking the pills by mouth, medical workers wouldn’t be able to tell because medication abortion essentially causes a miscarriage and there’s no drug test that can detect the meds. Avoiding suspicion is not an idle concern: An If/When/How report from August 2022 found that, in 61 cases where adults were investigated for pregnancy outcomes, 45 percent were reported to law enforcement by care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and social workers.

News of these drug tests could mean even more people criminalized by the healthcare system, especially without the protections of Roe v. Wade. Hospitals in the U.S. routinely test pregnant women for drugs without their consent, sometimes taking away their newborns and other children as a result. With tests for mifepristone and misoprostol, cops wouldn’t even need to, say, subpoena Meta for someone’s Facebook messages before arresting them for an alleged abortion.

When abortion is banned, every miscarriage and stillbirth becomes a potential crime scene, and Poland is taking its already dystopian anti-abortion surveillance state to the next level. Poland created a national pregnancy registry in June 2022 and recently had police search the sewers for a fetus to try and prove a woman lied about having a miscarriage. In that case, the police collected her underwear, scissors she used to cut the umbilical cord, and blood from her floor for the investigation. They even wanted to funnel the contents of her home’s septic tank, but cleaners refused. Police claimed the woman lost her pregnancy “as a result of criminal actions” and prosecutors opened proceedings against her, only to drop them months later.

The Polish government also prosecuted an activist who gave abortion pills to a pregnant woman in an abusive relationship; the woman reportedly never took them, though she did miscarry. Justyna Wydrzyńska, co-founder of the group Abortion Dream Team, was convicted in March of illegally aiding an abortion and sentenced to eight months of community service. It was the first conviction of its kind in Europe.

Conservative activists in the U.S. are already trying to ban helping others get an abortion, even though—for now—the proposed penalties are civil lawsuits, not criminal charges. State lawmakers have introduced bills to classify abortion as homicide, but none have passed yet. In April, the Biden administration proposed a change to medical privacy laws that would ban doctors and nurses from reporting suspected abortions to law enforcement. But, a group of 19 Republican attorneys general are asking them to withdraw that change so the cops in their states can keep going after formerly pregnant people.

Some Republican-controlled states could be emulating Poland in the near future, and that should terrify us all.

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