Women living in countries where abortion is restricted - including Northern Ireland - are using the internet to buy medication enabling them to perform an abortion at home, it emerged today.
A medical study found more than one in 10 customers on one of the most well-known websites needed a surgical procedure after taking the medication.
Women in more than 70 countries, including Northern Ireland, have used the internet site Women on Web to purchase the drugs for £55 a time.
Anti-abortion campaigners have labelled the development "worrying".
Women on Web is available in five languages and offers the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. It says a combination of the pills causes the non-surgical termination of a pregnancy and can be used up to the ninth week.
The website says it helps women "gain access to a safe abortion with pills in order to reduce the number of deaths due to unsafe abortions".
But the BBC reports a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that 11% of 400 customers went on to need a surgical procedure - either because the drugs had not completed the abortion or because of excessive bleeding.
Of 200 women who answered questions about their experiences, almost 60% said they were just grateful to have been able to have an abortion in this way, and 30% said it had been stressful but they found the experience acceptable.
Women on Web posts the drugs only to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks' pregnant.
Customers must answer 25 questions before they are allowed to purchase the drugs, and women are advised to have a pregnancy test and an ultrasound if possible. Customers are asked to make a minimum donation of 70 euros (£55).
The website says it is "a digital community of women who have had abortions and individuals and organisations that support abortion rights".
The Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland told the BBC the website was "helpful and reputable", but stated that on two occasions women bought drugs without appropriate medical information and needed medical care after experiencing complications.
Northern Ireland FPA director Audrey Simpson told the broadcaster: "The Women On Web site is very helpful and reputable.
"But for Northern Ireland women, it is encouraging them to break the law - and as an organisation, we have to work within the law.
"We're really concerned about women accessing the rogue sites - we're hearing about it and we know it's happening.
"There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren't well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions."
But the anti-abortion group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said it was taking abortion "into the shadows".
Spokeswoman Josephine Quintavalle told the BBC: "This is very worrying indeed. It represents further trivialisation of the value of the unborn child.
"It's like taking abortion into the shadows. These drugs have side-effects and tragedies will increase."
Martin Lupton, chair of the ethics committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The problem with termination services available without access to medical oversight is that we know that women often under-state their gestation.
"The very people who may benefit from this service may have problems with literacy and may not understand their underlying medical conditions.
"They are putting themselves at risk in taking these tablets.
"Having said that, access to illegal termination services is extremely hazardous in any case and it may well be that this is a safer form of termination than illegal surgical methods, which may be the only alternative they have."Reuse content