Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs law adding criminal penalties to abortion pill distribution via mail

Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill on Thursday increasing criminal penalties for anyone distributing abortion medication through telehealth or mail, amid the U.S. Supreme Court's contemplation of ending nationwide abortion rights.

The bill prohibits any distribution of abortion medication except when prescribing is done in person by a physician. The physician is not required to monitor a patient during or after taking the medication, except for a required follow-up appointment within two weeks.

The legislation, approved by lawmakers this year, also makes it a Class E felony punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 if that procedure is not followed.

A medicated abortion is an increasingly common method to terminate early-term pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the delivery and telehealth dispensing of the medication amid access concerns during the pandemic.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee talks to reporters on May 2, 2022 in Franklin.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee talks to reporters on May 2, 2022 in Franklin.

More than 75% of Tennessee abortions occurred within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy in 2018, according to the most recent available state data. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed medical or chemical abortion as a safe procedure.

Related: What happens in Tennessee if Roe v Wade is overturned? Here's a guide

Previously: Tennessee House passes bill adding criminal penalties to abortion pill distribution via mail

The Tennessee legislation mirrors a raft of similar anti-abortion measures brought across the U.S. in recent months following the FDA approval.

Lee's signature also comes just days after Politico published a draft opinion that showed the U.S. Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion across the nation.

Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement confirming the authenticity of the draft opinion earlier this week but cautioned the opinion was not final and could change.

The justices are set to release a ruling in a lawsuit challenging a Mississippi abortion law this summer. The suit could act as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

In 2019, Tennessee passed a law that would automatically ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns or alters Roe v. Wade. The measure would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion, while women seeking abortions would be exempt from prosecution.

Melissa Brown and Mariah Timms contributed to this report.

Adam Friedman is The Tennessean’s state government and politics reporter. Reach him by email at afriedman@tennessean.com.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Gov. Lee signs bill criminalizing abortion pill distribution via mail