The Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 456 on Tuesday, which requires women seeking the abortion pill to first be examined by a physician in-person, and to sign a consent form. The bill also requires women to schedule a follow-up visit with a physician seven to 14 days after taking the pill, and it prohibits state-funded colleges and universities from providing the pills on campus.
If passed into law, the legislation would supersede the recent FDA decision to allow abortion pill distribution through the mail.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Bruce Thompson, said that the legislation is all about ensuring women’s safety. “This bill’s about protecting women. […] We shouldn’t dismiss the importance of the physician. That’s the nature of this bill,” he said.
There are good reasons for requiring in-person consults for abortion pill distribution. Research has shown that the abortion pill is four times more dangerous than a first-trimester surgical abortion. By offering the abortion pill without an in-person exam, a doctor is unable to determine exactly how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, unable to confirm that her pregnancy is not ectopic, and unable to determine whether or not the woman is Rh-negative, because if she is, she may be putting future pregnancies at risk.
Many women who take the abortion pill suffer from serious complications, and some need emergency care. In fact, one study shows that the rate of abortion-pill-related emergency room visits is up 500% since 2002. Ensuring that women receive follow-up care from a physician after taking the abortion pill is a common-sense measure to mitigate some of the risks.
Sen. Ben Watson, a physician, emphasized the need for in-person visits for the abortion pill. “During the pandemic, the rules were suspended, and patients were allowed to get this medicine via telemedicine,” he said, according to the Georgia Recorder. “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 follow-up 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? … 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.”
While the FDA recently loosened restrictions to make it easier to access the abortion pill through the mail, states are free to place their own restrictions. In passing this legislation, Georgia joins a number of other states who are trying to protect women from the risks of the abortion pill, including Iowa, South Dakota, and Texas. The United Kingdom has also recently decided to end its allowance of dangerous no-visit abortion pill distribution, opting instead to return to mandated in-person visits.
The bill next heads to the House for consideration.
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