MONTGOMERY — A bill that would outlaw all chemical abortions or the use of prescription “abortion pills” in Alabama will get a public hearing in a House committee today.
House Bill 377 from Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, would make it a Class C felony for anyone in the state to administer medication that is commonly used to end a pregnancy during the first trimester.
Sorrell said he thought the bill was needed now after seeing a push in some states to increase access to the medications through telemedicine means, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic, there has been a big shift to where these states are saying you don’t need to have an in-person appointment to have an abortion, you just need to do telemedicine,” Sorrell said.
A Class C felony is punishable by up to 10 years in state prison but the bill says no woman seeking the abortion would be held criminally liable.
The bill specifically mentions that the drugs RU-486, Mifepristone, Mifegyne, Mifeprex or any similar drug would be illegal to manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell or transfer in the state.
The bill does not prevent Alabamians from using certain contraceptive agents, like Plan B or the morning-after pill, that are administered before a pregnancy can be confirmed.
Chemical abortions are usually a combination of drugs taken within 24-48 hours of each other that produce miscarriage-like symptoms to end a pregnancy early on. Alabama already requires that chemical abortions be administered in person by a licensed physician.
The bill does not list any exceptions in cases of rape or incest but Sorrell said women could still seek a surgical abortion at the appropriate time. Abortions are legal in Alabama up to 20 weeks and require a 48-hour waiting period and an ultrasound beforehand.
The Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based nonprofit that helps provide abortion assistance in the South, said Sorrell’s bill would further hurt vulnerable women in Alabama by denying them access to affordable and efficient forms of abortion.
“No state has ever passed a medication abortion ban before — even Mississippi rejected it when it was proposed,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund.
“Leave it to Alabama to tell its poor that they if they want to have an abortion they can only do it the way the rich white men at the Statehouse say they can — by having a more invasive medical procedure even when a safe medication is available as well.”
Sorrell said that the pro-life group Students for Life of America asked him to carry the bill, claiming that chemical abortions are four times more likely to produce complications than surgical abortions.
However, the Food and Drug Administration considers the medication safe to use under appropriate protocols. A recent study found that 24 women have died from using the drug Mifeprex since its approval for use in 2000.
The FDA announced this month it was changing the policy on requiring a doctor’s visit to seek an abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Associated Press reported. Officials said after a review of recent studies, administering the pills at home did not “appear to show increases in serious safety concerns.”
If passed, HB 377 would likely face challenges in court just as Alabama’s overall abortion ban passed in 2019 is still being held up by the courts, but Sorrell believes his bill has a chance to hold up in court.
“My position is let’s get as many good abortion laws on the books as we can and let them work through the court system and see what happens. But I think this one has a much higher likelihood to remain in effect because we can make the argument that it is dangerous for women to get the chemical abortion,” Sorrell said.
The Alabama House has already passed a bill this session that would create criminal penalties for physicians who fail to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of an unborn child after a failed abortion. It now awaits a Senate vote.