Georgia Senate approves bill to ban the mailing of abortion pills

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Senate approved on a party-line vote a bill that would ban women from receiving the abortion pill through the mail.

Senators voted 31-22 to approve the measure, with Republicans supporting the measure, which now goes to the state House.

Senate Bill 456, filed by state Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, would require pregnant women to see a doctor in person before being able to obtain mifepristone, the abortion pill. Pills could not be sent through the mail or given on state property — or at any k-12 school or college that receives state funds. A doctor would also have to perform an ultrasound before the drugs could be prescribed and schedule a follow-up visit.

“This bill is about access to health care (and) ensuring that powerful drugs such as these are prescribed as they were intended,” Thompson said. “This is not about restricting abortions, but rather protecting vulnerable women and ensuring they receive the necessary examination and important care required.”

SB 456 would write into law that doctors “may” tell their patients that their abortion could be reversed if they change their mind after taking the abortion pill. An earlier version of the bill would have required doctors to tell patients abortions could be reversed.

Medical groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have said the science does not support suggestions that a drug-induced abortion can be reversed.

Opponents of the legislation say the bill, which is titled the Women’s Health and Safety Act, is disingenuous when it limits the choices available to women who no longer want to be pregnant. A statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that abortion is 14 times safer than childbirth. Georgia also ranks among the worst in the nation for maternal mortality rates.

“Historically, when abortion access is limited, maternal mortality rates increase,” said Senate Democratic Leader Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain. “It will be undoing the good work we are trying to do in other areas to improve our maternal mortality rates. You cannot do good work on women’s health with your right hand while simultaneously undermining it with your left. That is not progress.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Biden administration first allowed the drug to be mailed last April. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a rise in doctor’s visits being conducted by phone or online as the Biden administration temporarily waived the requirement for pregnant women to have in-person visits to gain access to the abortion pill. The Federal Drug Administration in December made the temporary allowance permanent.

Under the FDA guidelines, doctors must prescribe the abortion pill before it can be sent through the mail, but an in-person visit is not required.

State Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and physician, said the bill will not limit access to the abortion pill.

“This puts it back to what it was in a pre-pandemic situation ... and I think it encourages good health care,” Watson said.

Anti-abortion groups across the country have pushed state legislatures to require abortion providers to tell patients that abortions done through medication are reversible, but courts in states such as Tennessee and Indiana have ruled the efforts violate doctors’ First Amendment rights. Six states, including Oklahoma and Texas, passed laws that ban the mailing of the abortion pill.

First approved by the FDA in 2000, “medication abortion” has increasingly become the preferred method for terminating a pregnancy up until 10 weeks.

State Sen. David Lucas, a Macon Democrat, said passing anti-abortion legislation this year shows that Republicans are “chomping at the bit” as they prepare for a decision on the future of Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion.

“None of us in here — us men, I’m talking about — can genetically have a baby,” Lucas said. “So why is it that we know how to tell women what to do with their body. It amazes me how we can do it over and over and over again. This bill is about Roe v. Wade. You’re trying to get ahead of the game, and the justices haven’t even ruled yet.”