Tennessee has become the latest state to implement restrictions on abortion pill distribution, with Governor Bill Lee signing a law on May 5 that will prohibit the distribution of abortion pills through the mail.
Under the legislation, HB 2416, qualifying physicians must be present and administer abortion pills only after an in-person physical examination. The bill also requires doctors to “inform the patient that the patient may see the remains of the unborn child in the process of completing the abortion,” mandates that the physician schedule a follow-up appointment within two weeks, and prohibits the distribution of abortion pills at any school facilities.
Violators will face a Class E felony charge and a fine of up to $50,000. The new law is slated to go into effect on January 1, 2023.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debra Moody, the state already had legislation in place prohibiting the distribution of medicine via telehealth, but stricter penalties were needed in ensuring the law’s enforcement specifically related to the abortion pill. This new law puts those penalties in place.
The abortion pill procedure is a two-step process involving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. The woman first takes mifepristone, which causes the lining of the uterus to break down and starves the baby of nutrients. One to two days later she takes misoprostol, which causes her to deliver her dead baby. The entire process comes with a number of serious risks, including severe cramping, heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headaches. Emergency room visits related to the pill skyrocketed over 500% between 2002 and 2015 as abortion pill use rose in popularity.
Despite the dangers, the FDA decided in December 2021 to loosen safety guidelines that had required in-person abortion pill distribution, allowing it by mail instead. However, without an in-person physical examination, doctors are unable to verify the woman’s gestational age, whether she has an extrauterine pregnancy, or whether she has any contraindications for the abortion pill. Plus, without physically distributing abortion pills to the pregnant woman, a doctor has no way of verifying that the person receiving the pills is who they say they are. This opens the door to possible abuse, like in this instance where a man tried to force an abortion on his pregnant mistress by lacing her drink with mifepristone. He later confirmed that he received the pills through the mail. And he is not the only man to take such actions.
In enacting the legislation, Tennessee joins a number of other states who have placed restrictions on abortion pill distribution since the FDA’s decision. The state also has a trigger law in place, which means if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade, nearly all abortions in the state will be outlawed.
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