NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republicans are advancing legislation that would strictly regulate the dispensing of abortion pills, including imposing harsh penalties on doctors who violate them.
The bill is part of a coordinated nationwide effort by anti-abortion groups responding to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision allowing women to pick up the abortion medication in person.
Multiple Republican-controlled states have introduced similar measures across the country this year that would outline a long list of new rules surrounding medication abortion.
Under the Tennessee version, delivery of abortion pills by mail would be outlawed and anyone who wanted to use abortion pills would be required to visit a doctor in advance and then return to pick up the pills. The drugs may be dispensed only by qualified physicians — effectively barring pharmacists from doing so. Violators would face a Class E felony and up to a $50,000 fine.
The bill would also ban abortion pills from being provided at secondary schools, colleges and universities in the state.
The full House and Senate need to pass the proposal, where it’s likely to succeed because of Republican supermajorities in both chambers. Republican Gov. Bill Lee hasn’t publicly weighed in on the measure, but he has never vetoed legislation while in office.
“This is an incredibly complicated medication that comes with several complications and possible side effects for the mother on top of terminating the life of the child that’s inside her womb,” Will Brewer, a lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, told lawmakers last month. “Due to the importance and complications of this medication, the intent is to have it provided in a doctor’s office to be as safe as possible.”
The in-person requirement had long been opposed by medical societies, including the American Medical Association, which say the restriction offers no clear benefit to patients.
Medication abortion has been available in the United States since 2000, when the FDA first approved mifepristone to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Taken with another drug called misoprostol, it constitutes the so-called abortion pill.
About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are now done through medication — rather than surgery — and that option has become more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.