Tennessee would become the latest state to impose stiff penalties on doctors who violate tough new regulations dictating the dispensing of abortion pills in a proposal directed at Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office.
The proposal mirrors similar measures introduced in Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict access to medical abortion. It’s a coordinated national effort led by anti-abortion groups upset by the US Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to remove a rule that required women to pick up abortion drugs in person.
After Tennessee’s GOP-controlled House approved the measure last week, Senate Republicans on Thursday approved sending the proposal to the governor.
Lee has not publicly weighed in on the measure, but he has yet to veto a bill during his tenure and frequently stresses his opposition to abortion.
Under the bill, the delivery of abortion pills by mail would be prohibited and anyone wishing to use abortion pills would be required to consult a doctor beforehand and then return for the pills. Drugs can only be dispensed by qualified doctors, effectively preventing pharmacists from doing so. Violators would face a Class E felony and a fine of up to $50,000.
The original version of the bill also would have required doctors to tell patients that medical abortions could be stopped mid-stream, a claim medical groups say is not supported by science. This part was quietly deleted through an amendment. Lawmakers also removed a provision that would have banned the supply of abortion pills in state high schools, colleges and universities.
The in-person requirement has long been opposed by medical societies, including the American Medical Assn., which said the restriction offers no clear benefit to patients.
Medical abortion has been available in the United States since 2000, when the FDA first approved mifepristone to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks old. Taken with another drug called misoprostol, it is the so-called abortion pill.
In the United States, around 40% of all abortions are now performed by medication – rather than surgery – and this option has become more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.