Tennessee passed a ban on shipping abortion pills, not emergency contraceptives like Plan B

If the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade agrees, as a leaked draft majority opinion suggests, access to abortion would vary from state to state due to differing policies. Abortion rights advocates express concern that efforts by some states to restrict contraceptive use will continue.

But has Tennessee already completely banned the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B?

Short answer, no.

But that’s what many people wondered after claims surfaced online that the state recently banned emergency contraception and will now fine people who try to get the drugs.

“Tennessee just banned Plan B and made it a felony punishable by a $50,000 fine for ordering it,” said Pam Keith, CEO of the Center for Employment Justice and a 2020 Democratic nominee, in a tweet for Florida’s 18th congressional district. (Keith lost to Republican Rep. Brian Mast.)

Tennessee recently passed legislation restricting access to certain medications, but it didn’t include a Plan B. Known as the morning-after pill, Plan B is emergency contraception used to prevent pregnancy — not abortions — after unprotected Sex or birth control method has failed. The drug is available over the counter and does not require a prescription.

However, the legislation at the heart of this claim imposes strict restrictions on the dispensing of abortion pills. Signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee on May 5, it does not address or ban emergency contraceptives.

The law provides a $50,000 fine for doctors or anyone who gives out abortion pills through the mail. There are no criminal penalties for patients.

PolitiFact reached out to Keith through her company’s website for comment, but received no response. But on May 9th Keith tweeted that she made a mistake and deleted her original tweet.

“Hey everyone. I tweeted about a change in law in Tennessee criminalizing a component of women’s health care that I believe is similar to the proposed bans in Louisiana and Missouri. I removed them,” Keith wrote.

Abortion pills refer to the drug option for abortion, usually taken during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. It is a combination of two drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol – that are typically taken about 24 hours apart. Mifepristone blocks progesterone, the hormone needed to maintain a pregnancy, and misoprostol causes the uterus to contract to complete the abortion.

The Tennessee Abortion-Inducing Drug Risk Protocol Act goes into effect on January 1, 2023.

The legislation states that qualified medical clinicians must be physically present when abortion pills are administered to patients. To legally obtain abortion pills, a patient must see a doctor, give her consent, and then return to collect the medication. Delivery of abortion pills by mail is prohibited.

Under the measure, the drugs can only be dispensed by qualified physicians, a category that pharmacists do not belong to.

The legislation specifically provides that this applies to medicines promoting abortion.

“That’s not what this bill does,” said Akram Faizer, associate professor of law at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. “Anything that can be treated as a contraceptive would not be affected by this legislation.”

Legal experts say it’s not yet known whether states like Tennessee may restrict access to abortion pills following the FDA’s 2021 decision to allow the drugs to be shipped statewide by mail.

It would probably boil down to what Roe v. Wade happens. When the Supreme Court’s draft ruling overturning the legislation is complete, states could legislate on how and when abortions are allowed — including restrictions on abortion pills.

“State governments shouldn’t be responsible for shipping things, that’s usually a federal responsibility,” Faizer said. “But if the federal government loses its jurisdiction to enforce abortion rights, things could change.”

Our verdict

Keith claimed on Twitter that Tennessee banned the Plan B emergency contraceptive and made it a felony punishable by a $50,000 fine for ordering it.

The legislation imposes restrictions on the dispensing of abortion pills but does not ban emergency contraceptives like Plan B.

The $50,000 fine applies to anyone who sends abortion pills through the mail. The measure frees patients from criminal sanctions.

We consider this claim false.

TIED TOGETHER: Ask PolitiFact: What would the end of Roe mean for access to the abortion pill?

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