The drug combination has been associated with some adverse reactions, including several deaths from infection, according to the FDA.
"Sepsis is a known risk related to any type of abortion," says the FDA on its website. "We do not know whether using mifepristone and misoprostol caused these deaths."
"Patients should contact a healthcare practitioner right away if they have taken these medications for medical abortion and develop stomach pain or discomfort, or have weakness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea with or without fever, more than 24 hours after taking the misoprostol," says the FDA.
Mifepristone works by changing the uterine lining and softening the opening of the cervix. It also increases the uterine sensitivity to misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract and helps the pregnancy tissue to expel the fetus.
Dr. Dan Grossman, who served on a committee to revise recommendations for use of the drugs in medical abortion for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said there are no age restrictions on the use of the drugs and "only a handful of conditions" where they are contraindicated.
"It's very safe and effective and a method women really like and prefer here in the United States," he said. "It's most commonly used up to nine or 10 weeks of pregnancy and can be used later as well."
But Grossman, who is executive director of the pro-abortion rights reproductive health organization IBIS, said he does not recommend ordering these drugs online.
"The biggest risk is that you never know what you are getting and there is no way to ensure that they are actually these drugs," said Grossman. "The other risk is you don't know exactly how far along you are without a physician or midwife evaluating the woman."
Another risk, as with the Whalen case, is that a woman does not get proper follow up. In a "small percentage" of cases, the abortion is incomplete or the pregnancy continues to develop.
"I don't know all the details of this case, but other research on done on self-induced abortion, generally women do this because they either can't get to an abortion clinic or they don't know where to access abortion or they don't have the money," said Grossman.
"It may also be a stigma issue," he said. "Access barriers play a role in pushing women to do these things."