Several states are proposing new restrictions on abortion pills : NPR

As access to abortion in medical facilities becomes more limited in some parts of the country, many patients are turning to abortion pills. Conservative state lawmakers are taking notice.



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As access to abortion in medical facilities becomes more limited in some parts of the country, many patients are turning to abortion pills. As NPR’s Sarah McCammon reports, conservative state lawmakers are taking notice.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: For almost 50 years since the Supreme Court’s decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, clinics were at the center of the battle over abortion rights. Protesters gather outside on sidewalks. And Republican state lawmakers are trying to regulate what happens inside through laws limiting which health care providers can perform abortions, what kind of counseling is required and what procedures are allowed. But now more than half of abortions take place with pills.

RACHEL K JONES: For many people, having the ability to have an abortion in the privacy and comfort of their own home is appealing.

MCCAMMON: Rachel K. Jones is a research fellow at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. According to data published by Guttmacher earlier this year, abortion pills, not surgery, accounted for 54% of abortions in 2020. This makes medical abortion the dominant choice in the United States for the first time since the Food and Drug Administration has approved an abortion. pill over 20 years ago.

JONES: In some states, pills can be mailed. So they don’t have to go to the clinic to get the drugs.

MCCAMMON: During the pandemic, the FDA relaxed rules requiring medications to be dispensed in person, making it easier for patients to get a medical abortion through telehealth. The Biden administration recently made these changes permanent. And now Republican lawmakers in several states are pushing back. In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem recently signed legislation to restrict access to drugs. Planned Parenthood says similar restrictions have been introduced in two dozen states this year, some of which would ban the pills altogether if Roe v. Wade was canceled. In Georgia, Republican State Senator Bruce Thompson sponsored a bill banning the delivery of abortion pills by mail and requiring doctors to examine patients in person before prescribing them.

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BRUCE THOMPSON: SB 456 seeks to protect the cherished doctor-patient relationship.

MCCAMMON: This position is at odds with that of major medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, which have long supported easing access to pills and called for lifting the ban. in-person delivery requirement. Thompson opposes abortion rights. But he claims that this bill is about patient safety.

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THOMPSON: Why don’t we do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of women during this difficult time in their lives?

MCCAMMON: But opponents say the bill could make patients less safe. During the floor debate, several lawmakers noted that Georgia was among the states with the highest maternal mortality rates and that those mortality rates are significantly higher for black women. State Sen. Kim Jackson, Democrat, noted that many people, especially in rural areas, do not have access to pregnancy care.

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KIM JACKSON: And what’s really cruel about this bill is that those who are already the most vulnerable are the ones most at risk of being burned by this injustice, people who are poor, people who live in rural communities, people of color.

MCCAMMON: The bill has passed the Georgia State Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House. K AG Baby Yee is a Georgia-based attorney with the reproductive rights advocacy group URGE.

K AGBEBIYI: As soon as the FDA made medical abortion more accessible, Georgia pretty much turned around and said no. We actually want to make it really hard for people to get them.

MCCAMMON: Agbebiyi says medical abortion may become the only option for a growing number of people in states where clinics are scarce due to abortion restrictions.

AGBEBIYI: We know and our opponents know that medical abortion will gain popularity if Roe is overthrown. And that’s precisely why they try to put up as many barriers as possible.

MCCAMMON: It’s harder to put up barriers on the Internet, where abortion pills are available from mail-order pharmacies and other groups. Ushma Upadhyay, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, says if states try to block access to abortion pills, patients will find them online without the help of a doctor.

USHMA UPADHYAY: And people will use it alone without clinical support. That’s what concerns me. It is extremely safe. But all patients should have access to clinical support if they need it, have questions about how to take it, or if what is happening is normal.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, some states are trying to ease access to medical abortion. A bill moving forward in Delaware would allow a wider range of health care providers to prescribe the pills to their patients.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

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