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Georgia Senate Committee OKs bill to ban access to abortion pills by mail

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Georgia Senate Committee OKs bill to ban access to abortion pills by mail

Feb 09, 2022 | 5:05 pm ET
By Jill Nolin
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Georgia Senate Committee OKs bill to ban access to abortion pills by mail
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A Senate committee has approved a bill that would further restrict abortion access in Georgia. It's likely to pass the Senate. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Senate Republicans have advanced a proposal that would bar abortion medication from being mailed to Georgia women.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Bruce Thompson, is a response to the Biden administration’s pandemic-loosened rules that allow for mail-order medication abortion. The Food and Drug Administration made the change permanent in December. 

Thompson, a Republican from White who is running for state Labor Commissioner, deferred to a lobbyist with the anti-abortion advocacy group, Georgia Life Alliance, to explain the details of the bill Wednesday.

The bill was voted out of a Senate committee Wednesday along party lines after a one-hour debate where public comments were limited to two minutes or less.

“This bill is simply intended to protect these women from the reckless actions of those mailing these drugs to women without ensuring she receives the proper and necessary care to ensure her health and safety and that it’s not compromised,” Thompson said.

Under the bill, doctors would be required to perform an in-person physical exam and ultrasound before prescribing medication to induce an abortion, which the bill calls “chemical abortion.”

The doctor would then be required to schedule a follow-up appointment to check for complications and then provide contact information for a second physician who can assist with any unexpected problems.

And providers would also be barred from distributing abortion medication, such as mifepristone, on college campuses and state-owned property.

One controversial provision was softened but remains in the bill: The doctor can tell the patient that it “may be possible” to reverse abortion medication, which is an unproven claim that members of the medical community have challenged. An earlier version required it.

Failing to comply with the measure could result in civil penalties for the physician, who would also be reported to the Georgia Composite Medical Board. 

John Walraven, a lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, urged lawmakers to focus the bill more narrowly on requiring an in-person exam before abortion medication can be prescribed – which is what he said most physicians would prefer anyway.

“We don’t need to talk about experimental hormone injections into patients in state law. We just don’t need to go there,” Walraven said, referring to attempted abortion reversals. “This is an experimental theory. The only random clinical trial of the abortion reversal ended when safety problems happened with patients, and they were bleeding and dropping out of the trial.

“And we don’t need to give patients a phone number of a doctor that’s never seen them and that they don’t know to call in case of emergency. Y’all are codifying standards of care that are not found in medical practice,” he added.

Sen. Michelle Au, a physician and Johns Creek Democrat, said the provision on potentially reversing medication abortion “codifies and legitimizes pseudoscience into the law.” 

“I think that’s extremely inappropriate,” said Au, who said she also objected to state lawmakers telling physicians how to practice medicine.

Sen. Ben Watson, who is a physician and Savannah Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said the bill may change but pressed for a committee vote Wednesday.

“There is no bill that is ever perfect. That is always the way it is, but we don’t want to let the good get bogged down by the perfect,” Watson said.

The bill will likely sail through the Senate, where nearly every Republican lawmaker signed onto the bill when it was filed late last week.

It’s unclear how it would fare in the House. When House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, was asked generally about the potential for more abortion restrictions at his pre-session press conference early last month, he said his preference was to hold off until the U.S. Supreme Court settles a Mississippi case.

The Supreme Court’s decision on a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks into a pregnancy could have implications for Georgia. The state’s 2019 law, which has never taken effect, would outlaw most abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, or about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

The court’s opinion is expected to come this summer – after the legislative session has ended in Georgia.

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, accused lawmakers of election-year theatrics.  

“This bill is nothing but a performative bill in the middle of an election year. Abortion has already been decided by this state. So, there is no reason for y’all to be wasting tax dollars and time on debating a bill like this,” Fox said.