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Fact Check-Tennessee bill on abortion medication did not ban or criminalize ‘Plan B’

Emergency contraception pills, usually known as Plan B or the “morning after pill”, were not banned or criminalized in Tennessee, contrary to claims online. The mix-up spread after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed new legislation on abortion-inducing medication – not emergency contraceptive pills.

“Tennessee just banned Plan B and made it a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine to order it,” reads a tweet that has garnered over 37,000 retweets as of the writing of this article. ( here ) ( archive.ph/F7J2R ).

Other iterations inaccurately saying Plan B got banned in Tennessee can be found ( here ) ( here ) ( here ) ( here ) ( here ).

Emergency contraceptive pills “prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation,” the World Health Organization explains ( here ). Unlike the drugs used for a medical abortion – mifepristone, also known as RU-486, followed by a second drug called misoprostol ( here ) – emergency contraception cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.

More information about the difference between emergency contracepation and abortion pills can be found ( here ) ( here ).

The Tennessean reported that Governor Lee, a Republican signed a bill on May 5 increasing the penalties for the distribution of abortion medication (not emergency contraception) via mail ( here ).

The bill stipulates harsh punishment for healthcare professionals saying that “an individual who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly violates this bill commits a Class E felony and, upon conviction, will be fined an amount not to exceed $50,000, be imprisoned for a term not to exceed 20 years, or both.” ( here ) ( here )

Tennessee already required an in-person physician’s prescription for medication abortions ( here ) ( here ).

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed certified clinicians to dispense the medical abortion pill only in a healthcare setting, requiring an in-person visit from the patient. That requirement was suspended during the pandemic, increasing access to telehealth medical abortions. The FDA permanently lifted the requirement in December 2021, though this federal policy is complicated by state policies that restrict medical abortion via telehealth outright or through in-person requirements ( here ).

Kati Ann Coats, a representative for State Senator Mike Bell, the bill’s sponsor, told Reuters the bill would require a physician to see a patient in person before providing abortion-inducing drugs. She also quoted Plan B’s website as saying the drug does does not cause abortions if a person is already pregnant, meaning it would be excluded from the bill.

VERDICT

False. A recently signed bill in Tennessee did not ban or criminalize emergency contraception pills. The regulation increased criminal penalties for providers of abortion medication that distribute them via mail.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.

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