Future battles over abortion in the US will focus on pills
More than half of abortions in the United States are now performed with pills rather than surgery.
The battle over access to medical abortions will only gain momentum if the Supreme Court acts on its leaked draft opinion that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and allow each state to ban the procedure.
For abortion seekers, cross-border travel, remote medical consultations and mail-delivered pill packs offer hope of circumventing state restrictions.
Republicans in South Dakota, Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma have all moved to restrict access to abortion pills in recent months.
These measures have stimulated online services that offer information on obtaining abortion pills and consultations to obtain a prescription.
After the South Dakota woman discovered the state’s only abortion clinic couldn’t schedule her for a medical abortion in time, she found an online service, called Just The Pill, who advised her to travel to Minnesota for a telephone consultation with a doctor. .
A week later, she returned to Minnesota for the pills.
She took the first almost immediately to her car, then cried as she drove home.
“I felt like I lost a pregnancy,” she said. “I love my husband and I love my kids and I knew exactly what I had to say goodbye to and it was a really awful thing to do.”
In addition to crossing state lines, women can also turn to international online pharmacies, said Greer Donley, a professor specializing in reproductive health care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Some women also have prescribed pills passed across states without restrictions.
“It allows someone to have an abortion without the direct role of a provider. It’s going to be much harder for states to control access to abortion,” she said, adding, “The question is how is that going to be enforced?
Abortion law experts say it’s an unresolved question whether states can restrict access to abortion pills in the wake of the FDA’s decision.
“The general rule is that federal law takes precedence over conflicting state laws,” said Laura Hermer, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St Paul, Minnesota.
“There is no doubt that the FDA has the authority to regulate drugs used in medical abortions. The question is whether a state can make a viable and winning case that, for public health purposes, it must further regulate access to relevant medicines.
Hermer said she doesn’t think there is a valid public health reason because the published evidence is that the drugs are “exceptionally safe.”
But if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and a state grants embryos and fetuses full human rights “then all bets would be off.”
The regional Planned Parenthood organization that includes South Dakota does not believe it can legally send abortion pills to patients there.
Sue Leibel, director of state policy for Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent anti-abortion organization, acknowledged that medical abortions have “slipped” on Republican lawmakers in the state.
“It’s a new frontier and states are struggling with enforcement mechanisms,” she said, adding, “The advice I always give – if you close the front door, the pills go enter through the back door.
Leibel argued that women should not be prosecuted for seeking abortions, consistent with a long-held principle of many abortion opponents.
She suggested that the next target for state law enforcement should be the pharmacies, organizations and clinics that supply the abortion pills.
She also said abortion rights opponents should focus on electing a presidential candidate who will work to overturn the FDA decision.
The FDA said scientific review supported expanding drug access and complications were rare. The agency has reported 26 deaths associated with the drug since 2000, although not all of them can be directly attributed to the drug due to existing health conditions and other factors.
However, with new legal battles on the horizon and abortion seekers going to greater lengths to obtain the procedure, Donley, the law school professor, worried that state lawmakers were turning their attention to women who receive the pills.
Indeed, a Louisiana House committee on Wednesday introduced a bill that would make abortion a felony of homicide for which a woman terminating her pregnancy could be charged, as well as anyone assisting her.
“Many anti-abortion lawmakers might realize that the only way to enforce these laws is to sue the pregnant person themselves,” Donley said.