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House panel advances bill to regulate medication abortions

March 1, 2022 GMT
FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers took a first step Tuesday toward putting more regulations on medication abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies.

A Republican-controlled House committee advanced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban shipment of such medication by mail. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medication abortion.

The measure is part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to limit the ability of physicians to prescribe abortion pills by telemedicine. Elsewhere in the South, the Georgia Senate on Tuesday passed a similar bill. It now moves to the House for more debate.

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The Kentucky bill would direct the state pharmacy board to oversee the distribution of abortion pills. The pharmacy board also would oversee a certification process for pharmacies, physicians, manufacturers and distributors who administer or provide the drugs.

During the committee hearing, activists on both sides of the abortion issue spoke at length about the multilayered measure, which heads to the full House next. The bill would still need Senate approval if it clears the House. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

The bill would continue aggressive efforts by Kentucky lawmakers to put restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP assumed complete control of the legislature after the 2016 election.

“We’re talking about the life of a human being — a baby,” GOP Rep. Bill Wesley said in supporting the newest bill Tuesday. “That’s the discussion today. It’s not a ball of cells. It’s not a blob. It’s a life.”

In opposing the measure, Democratic Rep. Pamela Stevenson said the state has thousands of children either in need of protection from abuse or in need of a permanent home.

“Take care of those kids,” she said. “And let women have the right to their bodies.”

The bill’s supporters said the additional regulations are needed in response to a trend they referred to as “mail-order abortion” and “big abortion pharma.” About half of abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medication procedures, the House panel was told.

Nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rise in telemedicine and action by the Food and Drug Administration allowing abortion pills to be mailed so patients could skip in-person visits to get them.

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The FDA made the change permanent in December, meaning women can get a prescription via an online consultation and receive the pills through the mail. That move led to stepped-up efforts by abortion opponents to seek more restrictions on medication abortions through state legislatures.

Abortion-rights advocate Tamarra Wieder said Tuesday that the Kentucky bill amounted to “government overreach.” It would impose “unprecedented state-level oversight over a drug regimen with a proven safety record,” she told the House panel.

“This bill piles on a long list of abortion restrictions, none of which are based on medical best practice and patient safety,” said Wieder, Kentucky state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.

The measure also would put new restrictions on the process through which a girl can seek permission from a judge for an abortion in cases where getting permission from a parent is not possible or might put the girl in danger.

The bill also would require the pharmacy board to create a complaint portal on its website. It would list the names of doctors certified to prescribe medication to induce abortions and pharmacies, manufacturers and distributors certified to supply it.

Opponents warned about the potential consequences of that provision. For abortion providers, the portal would “open them up to increased harassment and intimidation,” Wieder said.

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The legislation is House Bill 3.