Did Tennessee Ban Plan B?

By Mabel Soriano, 11th Grade

If the Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, as a leaked draft majority opinion indicates it might, access to abortion would vary across states due to differing policies. Advocates of abortion rights are expressing concerns that some states’ efforts will go further to curtail contraceptive use. 

But has Tennessee already outright banned the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B? The short answer is no. 

But that’s what many people were left wondering after claims started circulating online saying that the state recently outlawed emergency contraceptives and will now fine people who try to get the medication. 

Tennessee did recently pass a law that restricts access to certain medications, but it did not involve Plan B. Known as the morning-after pill, Plan B is an emergency contraception used to prevent pregnancy—not induce abortions—after unprotected sex or when a birth control method has failed. The medication is available over-the-counter and does not require a prescription. 

The legislation at the center of this claim, though, imposes strict restrictions on the dispensing of abortion pills. Abortion pills refer to the medication option for abortion, usually taken in about the first eleven weeks of pregnancy. It involves a combination of two medicines—mifepristone and misoprostol—that are typically taken around twenty-four hours apart. Mifepristone blocks progesterone, the hormone needed to maintain a pregnancy, and misoprostol makes the uterus contract to complete the abortion. 

The Tennessee Abortion-Inducing Drug Risk Protocol Act goes into effect in January 1st, 2023. Signed by Republican Governor Bill Lee on May 5th, it doesn’t address or ban emergency contraceptives. The law includes a $50,000 penalty for doctors or anyone who dispenses abortion pills by mail. There is no criminal penalty for patients. 

The legislation states that qualified medical clinicians are required to be physically present when abortion pills are given to patients. To lawfully receive abortion pills, a patient must visit a doctor, give consent, and then return to pick up the medication. Delivery of abortion pills by mail is prohibited. 

According to the measure, the drugs can only be dispensed by qualified physicians, a category that does not include pharmacists. The legislation explicitly states that this applies to abortion-inducing drugs. Akram Faizer, associate professor of law at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, stated “This is not what this bill is doing. Anything that can be treated as contraception would not be affected by this legislation.” 

It would likely come down to what happens with Roe v. Wade. If the draft Supreme Court ruling overturning the legislation is finalized, states could set laws about how and when to allow abortions—including restrictions on abortion pills.

“State governments shouldn’t have jurisdiction over the mailing of things, that’s typically within federal jurisdiction,” Faizer said. “But if the federal government loses its jurisdiction to enforce abortion rights, that’s where things might change.” 



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