As the Supreme Court deliberates the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that could determine the future of the Constitutional right to abortion in the United States, Senate Bill 4 went into effect in Texas Thursday that limits the use of abortion-inducing medication, including the two most commonly used medications, mifepristone and misoprostol.
The new Texas law makes providing such medication a felony after seven weeks of pregnancy, putting Texas at odds with federal regulation. Abortions induced through medication—also referred to as “medical abortion”—is the most common form of abortion in Texas. Data recorded in 2020 from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services found medical abortions accounted for 53% of terminated pregnancies in the state. Recent evidence has suggested that following the controversial Texas ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, more women turned to self-managed abortions, in which pregnant people obtain the medications from out-of-state or international providers, with or without a prescription.
The law’s prohibition on sending the medication by “courier, delivery, or mail service,” contrasts the federal regulation enacted in April by the Biden administration that temporarily allows the medication to be mailed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mail-order abortion drugs are now prohibited in Texas,” tweeted Gov. Greg Abbott. “Earlier this year, the Biden Admin. temporarily lifted restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs allowing them to be delivered by mail. We will not allow that in Texas.”
Current Texas law already bans providers from administering medication abortion using telemedicine, according to Abigail R.A. Aiken, MD, MPH, PhD, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and principal investigator with Project SANA, a research project focused on self-managed abortion in the U.S.
“We’ve seen many states be able to open up new models of care where clinic-based providers can now do medication abortion by telemedicine,” said Aiken. “I think Texas is very clear that they don’t want providers here to follow suit and be able to start doing those kinds of new models where you would do a phone consultation with a provider and then have the pills mailed to your house for use at home.”
Abortion advocates have expressed concern that the new criminal penalties may make pregnant Texans fearful of seeking medical care after a self-managed abortion.
“Texas is looking at the ways that people are navigating around restrictions and trying to essentially make that as unsafe and as frightening for people as possible in order to deter them,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, senior legal counsel for If/When/How, a reproductive justice legal group.