Georgia Republicans advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban the delivery of abortion pills by mail and require women to be examined by a physician in person before the pills are dispensed.
The state Senate’s health and human services committee voted 7-5 in favor of the legislation after an expedited hearing that drew abortion opponents and supporters. The bill would still need approval from the state Senate and House before it could become law.
More than a dozen other Republican-led states have passed measures limiting access to the pills, including outlawing delivery by mail. The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court recently signaled it was ready to make seismic changes to the nationwide right to abortion that has stood for nearly half a century. If the court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision entirely, GOP-controlled states such as Georgia would be likely to severely restrict abortion access, potentially causing more women to seek out abortion pills by mail.
Proponents of the Georgia bill say drug-induced abortion can lead to complications, so physicians need to closely monitor patients. Critics say the procedure carries little risk, and the bill’s true aim is to impede access to abortions.
“In the name of safety, this bill sets out requirements for which there is no current medical justification,” said Dr. Melissa Kottke, a specialist in pregnancy and contraception at Emory University and the past president of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society. “Indeed, it denies medical advancements, and ultimately this bill will put into law substandard medical care. It will do harm.”
Kottke and other speakers were cut off by committee chairman Ben Watson, who warned at one point that security was outside the hearing room.
The Georgia legislation responds to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s December decision that changed a federal rule that required women to pick up the medication in person. The federal government had already set aside the rule temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The in-person requirement had long been opposed by medical societies, including the American Medical Association, which say the restriction offers no clear benefit to patients.
Watson, a Republican from Savannah, said the Georgia bill was written narrowly and returned things to the way they were before the COVID-19 emergency.
“There is no bill that is ever perfect,” he said. He added, “But we don’t want to let the good get bogged down by the perfect.”
Republican Sen. Bruce Thompson, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said its aim was to keep women safe.
“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,” he said.
Right now, abortion pills can be prescribed in Georgia 24 hours after a telephone consultation by a physician or someone working for the physician. Under the new bill, physicians would have to examine the patient in person and perform an ultrasound in advance. They would also be required to schedule a follow-up visit seven to 14 days after the drugs are administered.
The bill would also ban abortion pills from being provided at secondary schools, colleges and universities in the state.