Abortion-inducing drug bills pass in Senate, fail in House

JACKSON — Mississippi could restrict the use of abortion-inducing drugs and make women visit a physician an additional time after using them.

Senate Bill 2795 also would restrict a woman from taking the pills to seven weeks after their last menstruation. Many doctors now prescribe the medicine up to nine weeks into a pregnancy.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved the measure yesterday, sponsored by Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune. It goes to the full Senate for more debate.

A companion measure died yesterday in a House committee without a vote, along with almost three-quarters of all general bills. Yesterday was the deadline for committee action in the side where a bill was introduced.

According to bill-tracking service Statewatch, 2,269 general bills in the House and Senate were winnowed down to 592 survivors. There are later deadlines for bills that deal with taxes and spending.

Hill’s measure says physicians can only prescribe the abortion-inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, according to directions from the Food and Drug Administration. They couldn’t give “off-label” instructions that differ from those approved by the FDA.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who presented the bill to the committee, said the law is needed because too many people are having problems after taking the drugs. He described the bill as “pro-life” and said it would be unconstitutional to outlaw the medicines.

Abortion supporters say research that followed the FDA instructions shows that the dose on the label is too high, creating extra costs and health risks for women.

“The FDA protocol for medical abortion is an outdated procedure and it’s not commonly used,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, who lobbies for Planned Parenthood in Mississippi.

The measure would also require a woman to return to a doctor’s office to take a dose of misoprostol, instead of taking it at home, as is often now the practice. That would mean a total of four visits — one before prescription, one for the first course of mifepristone, one for the misoprostol, and then a follow-up visit 14 days later.

Fillingane said that he believed the bill would help resolve problems with the home use of medication and lack of follow-up visits. But Brown-Williams said the bill is about creating more hurdles to abortion.

“The reasons for these bills are to do everything possible to restrict abortion services,” Brown-Williams said. Her organization prescribes the drugs in other states, but not in Mississippi.

Only a doctor could prescribe the drugs under the proposed law, and the physician would have to report every prescription to the state Department of Health. Physicians would also have to report every “adverse event” to the FDA and the state Board of Medical Licensure. Any doctor who violates the law could face lawsuits, lose their licenses and be convicted of a misdemeanor.

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said he supported the bill but that he worried about “inserting ourselves in the decision-making process of physicians.”

It’s the latest attempt to stop abortion in Mississippi.

The only clinic in the state that provides surgical abortions, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, faces revocation of its operating license by the state Health Department. The clinic was unable to meet a 2012 state law that requires anyone doing abortions be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to the hospital.

The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, has said local hospitals would not issue privileges to out-of-state physicians who do most of the abortions.

The effort to more closely regulate the drugs mirrors efforts by anti-abortion forces in a number of states. Most significantly, in Ohio, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has approved most of that state’s law that contains similar restrictions.

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