Georgia bill banning abortion pills in the mail advances

ATLANTA — Republicans in Georgia introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban the delivery of abortion pills through the mail and require women to be examined by a doctor in person before the pills are distributed.

The state Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-5 in favor of the legislation after an expedited hearing that drew abortion opponents and supporters. The bill would still need Senate and state House approval before it could become law.

More than a dozen other Republican-run states have passed measures limiting access to the pills, including banning delivery by mail. The conservative-majority United States Supreme Court recently signaled that it is prepared to make seismic changes to the nation’s abortion law that has existed for nearly half a century. If the court entirely reverses the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, GOP-controlled states such as Georgia would be likely to severely restrict access to abortion, which could lead to more women seeking abortion pills through the mail.

Supporters of the Georgia bill say medical abortion can lead to complications, so doctors need to monitor patients closely. Critics say the procedure is low risk and the real purpose of the bill is to prevent access to abortion.

“In the name of safety, this bill sets out requirements for which there is currently no medical justification,” said Dr. Melissa Kottke, pregnancy and contraception specialist at Emory University and former president of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society. “In effect, it negates medical advances, and ultimately this bill will enshrine substandard medical care in law. It will do harm.”

Kottke and other speakers were interrupted by committee chairman Ben Watson, who at one point warned that security was outside the hearing room.

The Georgia legislation responds to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s December decision that changed a federal rule that required women to pick up drugs in person. The federal government had already temporarily waived the rule during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The in-person requirement has long been opposed by medical societies, including the American Medical Association, who say the restriction offers no clear benefit to patients.

Watson, a Republican from Savannah, said the Georgia bill was narrowly drafted and put things back to how they were before the COVID-19 emergency.

“No bill is ever perfect,” he said. He added: “But we don’t want to let the good ones get bogged down in the perfect ones.”

Republican Senator Bruce Thompson, co-sponsor of the legislation, said its goal was to protect women.

“This bill is simply to protect these women from the reckless actions of those who send these drugs to the women without ensuring that she receives the proper and necessary care to ensure her health and safety, and that this is not compromise,” he said.

Currently, abortion pills can be prescribed in Georgia within 24 hours of a telephone consultation by a doctor or someone working for the doctor. Under the new bill, doctors would have to examine the patient in person and perform an ultrasound beforehand. They would also be required to schedule a follow-up visit seven to 14 days after the medications were administered.

The bill would also ban the supply of abortion pills in state high schools, colleges and universities.

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