Georgia Senate panel approves bill to ban the mailing of abortion pills

State Sen.  Bruce Thompson is the sponsor of Senate Bill 456, which would prevent women in Georgia from receiving the abortion pill mifepristone through the mail. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Sen. Bruce Thompson is the sponsor of Senate Bill 456, which would prevent women in Georgia from receiving the abortion pill mifepristone through the mail. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

A state Senate panel Wednesday approved legislation just filed last week that would ban women from receiving the abortion pill through the mail.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved the measure 7-5, along party lines, with Republicans supporting the bill.

Senate Bill 456, filed Feb. 3 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. A doctor would also have to perform an ultrasound.

“We value the health and safety of each person in our state, especially the women that are facing the difficult decision of whether to terminate her pregnancy or not,” said Thompson, who is running for state labor commissioner this year. “This bill is intended to protect these women from the reckless actions of those mailing these drugs to women without ensuring she receives the necessary and required care to ensure her health and safety are not compromised.”

The Biden administration first allowed the drug to be mailed in 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. Last month, the Federal Drug Administration 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.

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.

Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and physician, limited public commenters to two minutes and reserved the last 10 minutes of the hearing for questions from committee members.

Watson accepted an amendment from Cornelia Republican state Sen. Bo Hatchett to name the legislation the Women’s Health and Safety Act.

State Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat and anesthesiologist, cited medical groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that have said there is no science that supports the notion that a drug-induced abortion can be reversed. She said she found the name of the bill ironic.

“In the interest of promoting women’s health and safety, we should not be codifying pseudoscience into law,” she said. “And we should not be overseeing or stipulating how physicians and caretakers should best take care of their patients.”

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.

Katie Glenn, a lobbyist with Washington-based Americans United for Life, said the proposed legislation puts safeguards in place to make sure pregnant women seeking an abortion are safe.

“There are abortionists who are willing to mail out pills without ever seeing a patient in person or even on video,” Glenn said. “SB 456 will prevent at-home, pill-by-mail DIY abortions that leave women to fend for themselves if medical complications arise.”

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

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, questioned the need for the legislation after the General Assembly passed a law that bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law was put on hold by the courts.

“This bill is nothing but a performative bill in the middle of an election year,” Fox said. “Abortion has already been decided in this state.”


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