Bill regulating abortion pills heads to Tennessee governor

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Lee hasn’t publicly weighed in on the abortion pills measure, but he frequently stresses his opposition to abortion.
(Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

Tennessee would become the latest state to impose harsh penalties on doctors who violate new, strict regulations dictating the dispensing of abortion pills under a proposal headed toward Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

The proposal mirrors similar measures introduced in Republican-controlled states seeking to clamp down on access to medication abortion. It’s a coordinated nationwide effort spearheaded by antiabortion groups upset over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to remove a rule that required women to pick up the abortion medication in person.

After Tennessee’s GOP-controlled House approved the measure last week, Senate Republicans on Thursday signed off on sending the proposal to the governor.


Lee hasn’t publicly weighed in on the measure, but he has yet to veto a bill while in office and frequently stresses his opposition to abortion.

According to the bill, delivery of abortion pills by mail would be outlawed and anyone who wanted to use abortion pills would be required to visit a doctor in advance and then return to pick up the pills. The drugs may be dispensed only by qualified physicians — effectively barring pharmacists from doing so. Violators would face a Class E felony and up to a $50,000 fine.

The original version of the bill would have also required doctors to inform patients that drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway, a claim medical groups say isn’t backed up by science. That part was quietly removed through an amendment. Lawmakers also deleted a provision that would have banned abortion pills from being provided at secondary schools, colleges and universities in the state.

The in-person requirement had long been opposed by medical societies, including the American Medical Assn., which said the restriction offers no clear benefit to patients.

Medication abortion has been available in the United States since 2000, when the FDA first approved mifepristone to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Taken with another drug called misoprostol, it constitutes the so-called abortion pill.

In the U.S., about 40% of all abortions are now done through medication — rather than surgery — and that option has become more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.