ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans in Georgia have introduced a bill banning the delivery of abortion pills through the mail. This would require anyone wishing to use abortion pills to consult a doctor beforehand and then come back for the pills.
Lawmakers also want to require women to undergo physical exams, including ultrasounds, and then sign a detailed consent form at least 24 hours before doctors provide the pills.
Senate Bill 351, introduced Tuesday by Republican Senator Bruce Thompson of White and co-sponsored by 23 other GOP senators, responds to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s December decision that changed a federal rule that required women to pick up the drug in person. The federal government had already temporarily waived the rule during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thompson, who is running for statewide labor commissioner, said he thinks it’s too risky for doctors to hand out the pills without an in-person exam.
“It puts the women who make that choice at great risk,” he said. “What we’re asking is that these women have a doctor involved.”
Abortion rights supporters held a press conference on Tuesday to promote a legislative resolution that would go in the opposite direction, reaffirming the availability of abortion in Georgia.
“We need to continue to reframe this issue,” said Rep. Park Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat. “Abortion access in Georgia is supported by 70% of voters and elected officials are playing games with health care during a pandemic.”
Georgia would join more than a dozen Republican-led states that have passed measures limiting access to the pills, including banning courier delivery. A law with some of the same language was passed in Oklahoma last year, suggesting the Georgia bill is part of a coordinated nationwide effort by anti-abortion groups.
The bill’s prospects are unclear, however. Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge told reporters ahead of the session that he was not interested in more abortion legislation until the U.S. Supreme Court rules. on Mississippi’s challenge to Roe v. Wade of 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide.
The measure would make prescribing abortion drugs without following state law a crime. It also expands abortion reporting requirements and allows for civil fines of at least $100,000 per violation. Reporting violations could also threaten the doctor’s license and warrant malpractice suits by their clients, even when the women suffer no physical harm.
Roula AbiSambra, of the abortion rights group Amplify Georgia, said the additional requirements were “death by a thousand cuts” and could deter doctors from offering abortions.
“You talk about putting outrageous restrictions and paperwork requirements on doctors,” AbiSambra said.
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 a hormone blocker called misoprostol, it is called the abortion pill.
About 40% of all abortions in the United States are now performed by medication — rather than surgery — and this option has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, abortion pills can be prescribed in Georgia within 24 hours of a telephone consultation by a doctor or someone working for the doctor. No physical examination needs to be performed and the patient only needs to be told a few things. The proposal would require a patient to sign 15 individual statements. Among them: A claim that the pills can be reversed by taking the hormone progesterone. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there is no systematic evidence for this.
The group says forcing a doctor to make such a claim to a patient is “dangerous political interference” that will “undermine patient care and safety.”
The doctor would also be required to schedule a follow-up visit two weeks later.
The bill would also ban the supply of abortion pills on campus or at any public or private school, college or university in the state.
In 2019, Georgia passed a law that would have banned most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present. Ultrasounds can now detect heart activity in embryonic cells that will eventually become the heart as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant. A challenge to that law remains in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is awaiting direction from the U.S. Supreme Court in a Mississippi case.
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