A Georgia woman would have to be examined by a doctor in person and sign a consent form before she can be prescribed abortion pills under a bill passed by the state Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 456, which passed 31 to 22 in a party vote, is part of a nationwide campaign by anti-abortion groups to limit doctors’ ability to prescribe abortion pills by telemedicine. It is returned to the House for further debate.
The move comes months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ended a federal rule requiring women to pick up drugs in person. The federal government had already temporarily waived the rule during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medical abortion in 2020 accounted for more than half of abortions in the United States for the first time, according to a survey released last week by the Guttmacher Institute. The group, which advocates for legal abortion, found the pills accounted for 54% of US abortions, up from 37% in a 2017 survey.
Supporters of the Georgia bill say medical abortion can lead to complications, so doctors need to monitor patients closely.
“This bill is about protecting women. … We should not overlook the importance of the doctor. That’s the nature of this bill,” said Sen. Bruce Thompson, a White Republican who sponsors the measure.
Opponents, however, say the method is safe and an in-person examination is not necessary and that the bill would reduce access to abortion, especially for women who are poor or live far from doctors.
“Without access, there can be no equity in health care for women,” said Sen. Kim Jackson, Democrat of Stone Mountain. “Let’s be clear: the intended result of this bill is to limit access to abortion in Georgia, so that fewer women can access their constitutional rights.”
The conservative majority on the US Supreme Court recently signaled that it would likely make big changes to the nation’s abortion law that has existed for nearly half a century. If the court fully overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade, GOP-controlled Georgia has already taken steps to severely restrict access to abortion, which could encourage more women to seek out abortion pills from afar.
“Abortion care in Georgia will likely be severely restricted by this summer, after the Supreme Court rules on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban,” said Sen. Michelle Au, Democrat of Johns Creek. “That’s why this bill is important in today’s environment.”
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.
Georgia’s bill would require a doctor to schedule a follow-up visit seven to 14 days after taking the drug. It would also ban the provision of abortion pills in any school or college receiving state funding.
The Senate bill was watered down from an earlier proposal, which would have required a 24-hour waiting period, an ultrasound, a second doctor’s visit and a consent form that includes the disputed 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 current bill states that a physician may, but is not required, to tell a patient that it may be possible to reverse the procedure.
Most of this language was removed prior to the committee hearing. The Senate also passed an amendment sponsored by State Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican and Marietta doctor, along with Thompson and three other Senate doctors, which removed the additional language
One of the amendment’s co-sponsoring physicians, Republican Ben Watson of Savannah, said the bill’s focus is now limited, just to backtrack before the federal changes.
“It takes us back to the pre-pandemic situation we were in before, and I think that encourages good health care,” Watson said.
But Au, who co-sponsored the amendment but opposed the bill, said while she thinks in-person care is better, it’s important to recognize that sometimes it’s not possible.
Georgia would join more than a dozen Republican-led states that have passed measures limiting access to the pills, including banning courier delivery.
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 declared a national right to abortion.
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