JACKSON — Any woman who takes abortion-inducing drugs would be required to have a follow-up physical examination two weeks later, under a bill that passed the Mississippi Senate yesterday.
Senate Bill 2795 is designed to regulate mifepristone and misoprostol, which are given in combination to terminate pregnancy within the first several weeks. The process is called a chemical abortion rather than a surgical abortion.
Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said any non-physician who administers the drugs could be subject to criminal penalties, if the bill becomes law. It goes to the House for more work.
Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, spoke against the bill before it passed 39-12. She noted that Mississippi voters in November 2011 rejected a “personhood” state constitutional amendment that would’ve declared life begins at fertilization.
“Politicians have no place in health care decisions — not women’s, not men’s,” Dawkins said. “There are no good reasons for this attempt to insert ourselves into people’s private lives.”
Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, is the bill’s main sponsor.
“My only intent with this bill is to protect the women who are using these drugs for chemically induced abortions,” Hill said.
Mifepristone is marketed as Mifeprex and initially was known as RU-486. The manufacturer’s website says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Mifeprex for non-surgical abortion within the first 49 days of pregnancy. The site says the drug blocks the body’s production of progesterone, a hormone that prepares the uterus lining for a fertilized egg. When progesterone is blocked, the lining of the uterus breaks down and bleeding begins. The second drug, misoprostol, causes contractions that make the body expel the contents of the uterus.
Terri Herring, of Madison, head of Pro Life America Network, said in a memo that the abortion drugs should be regulated to prevent doctors from prescribing the drugs after seeing patients by teleconference rather than in person. She said a follow-up exam would help ensure a woman hasn’t had excessive bleeding or other complications.
Abortion opponents who lobbied for the bill say they believe it was watered down during Senate debate.
The bill originally said physicians could only prescribe the drugs according to FDA directions. They couldn’t give off-label instructions.
The Mississippi State Medical Association said in a memo to lawmakers: “Mississippi physicians have strong and serious concerns about SB 2795.”
The association said the original bill could’ve criminalized doctors for practicing medicine according to accepted standards of care.
On a split vote, senators adopted an amendment to address the medical association’s concerns. Wiggins, who sponsored the amendment, said physicians sometimes use the drugs to control hemorrhaging in women who are not seeking abortion.
“I am pro-life. This body is pro-life. This state is pro-life,” said Wiggins.
Herring has lobbied for Mississippi abortion restrictions for nearly two decades. After the Senate voted, she fought tears and said she can’t support the bill in its current form.
“It took the life out of the pro-life bill,” Herring said of the amendment.
The medical association opposed the bill as originally written but does not have a stance for or against the version of the bill that passed the Senate.
The GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law last year that requires anyone doing abortions to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to the hospital. The state’s lone abortion clinic said last month it had received notice that the state health department intends to revoke its operating license, though it is not expected to close anytime soon.