Legislation to ban mail-order abortion pills in Georgia clears state Senate
Sen. Jen Jordan (far left) and Sen. Bruce Thompson debate his bill that would ban mail-order abortion pills during the 2022 session. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday aimed at preventing Georgia women from accessing abortion pills by mail.
If the bill passes the House and receives Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature, doctors will be required to conduct an in-person exam before they can prescribe the drugs as well as schedule a follow-up appointment one to two weeks afterward. The bill applies to medicine taken after conception to end a pregnancy, but not contraceptive pills like Plan B designed to prevent pregnancy.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bruce Thompson, a Republican from White who is running for state labor commissioner, says it will undo a rule change by the Biden administration that loosened restricted access to the pills during the pandemic. Democrats called the measure a backhanded means to restrict abortion access ahead of an expected overhaul to Roe v. Wade this summer.
Thompson characterized the drugs as potentially dangerous, pointing to guidelines posted by one of the companies that make the drugs warning of side effects and requiring that they be administered by a medical professional.
“The manufacturers of these drugs understand the risks associated with taking these pills, and they also outline the importance of a post-treatment assessment between day seven and 14,” he said. “So you can see that their prescriber agreement form is very, very clear.”
Thompson said 26 deaths have been reported in connection with the pills. He did not specify the time frame for the deaths or the size of the population in which they occurred.
Savannah Republican Sen. Ben Watson, a physician who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said drugs for treating ailments ranging from acne to rheumatoid arthritis require in-person visits, which makes good medical sense.
“During the pandemic, the rules were suspended, and patients were allowed to get this medicine via telemedicine,” he said. “The FDA’s website has not changed, the medicine has not changed, and the need to see a physician has not changed. Other aspects relating to a followup visit is very important when you’re prescribing medicines. Does the patient need to have a birth control discussion? Is there follow up with any complications related to the medicine? And their initial visit also, do you need an ultrasound to see if this is an ectopic pregnancy? Is it a cervical pregnancy? Is there already some type of miscarriage going on? There are many things that need to be evaluated. Simply put, this puts it back to the pre-pandemic situation that we were in before and I think encourages good health care.”
Another physician lawmaker, Sen. Michele Au, a Johns Creek Democrat, disagreed.
Seeing patients face-to-face is always best, Au said, but many women do not have the ability, including those who cannot afford to see a doctor or who live in rural counties unlikely to have a practicing OB/GYN.
A Supreme Court ruling out of Mississippi expected this summer could limit abortions to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, and Au said Thompson’s bill would further strip away access to what she characterized as a safe medical procedure.
“This is why this bill matters in this current environment,” she said. “And because of how narrow this window is about to become, you need to leave healthcare providers as many options as possible in order to allow us to care for the patients who need us. The Legislature should not be in the practice of dictating how we can, and should, safely practice medicine.”
Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat running for attorney general, accused the bill’s Republican sponsors of playing politics.
“Y’all know that term gaslighting?” she said. “You’re going to gaslight women up and down. You’re gonna come up here and you’re gonna tell me that the only reason you want to pass this law is because you want to protect vulnerable women. You’re going to do everything you can to protect women. ‘Highest standard of care that women deserve.’ And yet you won’t even expand Medicaid. Y’all talk about protecting the cherished doctor-patient relationship. And you know what you do? You basically take that away, and you tell the doctor what to do.”
Jordan characterized the requirements for doctors to prescribe the pills as overburdensome and intended to make it harder to obtain an abortion. She expressed particular disgust with a portion of the bill requiring a doctor to inform a patient that “she may see the remains of her unborn child in the process of completing the abortion.”
The bill also states that doctors may, but are not required to, inform women that it might be possible to reverse the abortion process if they change their mind, a claim medical experts described as dubious during a committee hearing.
“Let’s be clear, this has nothing to do (with) protecting women,” Jordan said. “Nothing. It’s about an agenda that’s being pushed. It is about the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States is about to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is about narrowing whatever access actually may be available, especially to women that are poor, that live in rural areas and that are women of color.”
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