As a novel six-week abortion ban has significantly curtailed abortion care in Texas, another bill, aimed at restricting medication abortion, is set to become law in the state.
The Legislature this week advanced the bill, called Senate Bill 4, which would limit access to medication abortions for many. For now, patients can obtain the medication up until 10 weeks of pregnancy in the state. The measure would prevent physicians from administering it to people who are more than seven weeks pregnant and prohibit the pills from being mailed in Texas.
The bill is on the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who had yet to sign it Thursday afternoon.
Abbott, a Republican, said in a tweet Wednesday that "no freedom is more precious than life itself" and that "Texas will always defend the right to life."
State Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat, slammed the legislation.
"Texas Republicans have been relentless in their quest to ultimately ban all abortions," Howard said. She added that, in repeated legislative sessions, Republicans "have imposed barriers to access, forcing clinics to close and making it more and more difficult, especially for low-income Texans, women of color and those who live in our vast rural areas, to obtain this safe medical procedure."
The bill advanced as Texas is reeling from a law that took effect Wednesday banning nearly all abortions in the state. The law, known as Senate Bill 8, forbids abortions after as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before most people realize they are pregnant.
The law also prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban. It instead allows individuals to sue abortion providers or anyone who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit and to seek financial damages of at least $10,000 per defendant.
Late Wednesday, in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court declined to block the law after a group of abortion rights advocates and providers filed an emergency request.
Medication abortion — which usually involves two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol — is the most common method used for abortions up to 10 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies reproductive health rights.
"In the wake of this week's devastating news around SB 8 and the Supreme Court's decision to allow it to remain in effect, I am infuriated that Texas could now face yet another medically unnecessary restriction, this time on medication abortion care. Medication abortion care, as with other methods of abortion care, has an enviable safety record in medicine," said Dr. Jamila Perritt, an OB-GYN and president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the likelihood of complications is less than 1 percent when medication abortion is obtained in person or by telemedicine.
Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, defended the bill, saying it was necessary because the Food and Drug Administration could permanently lift the in-person dispensing requirements.
The FDA requires mifepristone, one of the two pills, to be distributed in clinics or doctors' offices rather than prescribed and picked up at pharmacies or delivered by mail. In May, the Biden administration announced that it would review the requirements.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a group of doctors and advocates challenged the rule so patients could order it by mail. The agency temporarily eliminated the requirements on mifepristone first in July 2020, in response to a court order that was later reversed by the Supreme Court, and again in April.
"We're strongly in support of the bill" and "we're very happy it has passed, and we expect the governor to sign it into law very quickly," Pojman said.