Proposed legislation in Tennessee and Missouri would not regulate Plan B contraception pills, and experts say state “trigger laws” that would take effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned will not ban methods of birth control. But social media posts falsely claim that both states have banned Plan B – the morning-after pill.
A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion published on May 2 by Politico indicated that the court could vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to an abortion. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the leak but said the draft ruling does not represent the court’s final decision.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the document. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
As we wrote, jurisdiction would then go back to the states, likely setting up a patchwork of abortion restrictions and rights across the country.
Meanwhile, the leaked court opinion has sparked misleading interpretations and false claims, including concerns over what “trigger laws” surrounding abortion will entail in several states. A “trigger law” refers to legislation that exists but cannot be enforced unless specific circumstances are met or changed.
Several posts on social media falsely claim that Plan B contraceptive pills have been banned or will be banned through new abortion legislation in Tennessee and Missouri.
“HEY WHY IS NOBODY TALKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT TENNESSEE PASSED A BILL THAT REMOVES PLAN B FROM PHARMACY COUNTERS AND MAKES IT PUNISHABLE TO ORDER PLAN B TO YOUR HOUSE BY A $50,000 FINE,” a post shared on Facebook reads in part.
Another Facebook post claims, “Tennessee banned plan b’s we can’t never have nice sht here.”
One Facebook post shifts the focus to Missouri, claiming, “They just banned plan B’s in Missouri. Clearly I don’t use em but y’all be easy.”
But neither Tennessee nor Missouri bans Plan B. Although both states recently passed or advanced legislation restricting access to abortions and abortion pills, Plan B was not included in the laws. The pills are still legal and available and won’t be affected by current bills.
Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, is an emergency contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy for women who’ve had unprotected sex or whose birth control method has failed, according to the Mayo Clinic. Morning-after pills contain either levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate.
Tennessee Restricts Abortion Pill, Not Plan B
There are 13 states — including Missouri and Tennessee — that have passed trigger laws to ban abortion if Roe is overturned.
On May 5, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law House Bill 2416, or the “Tennessee Abortion-Inducing Drug Risk Protocol Act.” That act replaces Tennessee’s current law restricting abortion pills to use only under the physical supervision of a doctor. The act requires medical clinicians to follow a list of procedures set forth in the bill, including being physically present when abortion pills are administered to a patient — even though federal regulations allow mail delivery nationwide. Federal regulations allow the pills to be sent by mail in any state that doesn’t prohibit the practice.
The delivery of abortion pills by mail is outlawed in Tennessee under the new law. Those who would like to use the pills would be required to visit a doctor in advance, then wait 48 hours before taking the pills under the doctor’s supervision.
The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. It classifies the offense as a Class E felony and, upon conviction, physicians who violate the law may be fined up to $50,000. The legislation also says “criminal penalty will not be assessed against a patient upon whom a chemical abortion is attempted or performed.”
Laura Hermer, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has expertise in reproductive rights, abortion and public health, told us in a phone interview that the language in the Tennessee bill doesn’t indicate that Plan B would be banned in that state.
“Plan B prevents an egg from implanting in the uterus. This all happens before pregnancy can be actually confirmed. When [the bills] are talking about abortion, they are talking about a clinically diagnosable pregnancy,” Hermer said.
“Plan B is taken within 72 hours of actually having sex. You can’t be diagnosed with pregnancy at that point, it’s not possible. Later in the text of the bill (HB 2416), they mention a physician must independently verify that a pregnancy exists. Again, that’s simply not possible at [the point one would use a Plan B pill],” she added. “To say that the Plan B pills would be or should be included in the bills would be wrong. That would be a fallacy.”
Missouri Bill Doesn’t Regulate Contraception
On May 10, a Missouri Senate Committee advanced a resolution that would ban all abortions in the state, except in the case of a medical emergency, if Roe v. Wade were overturned. The law has no exception for rape or incest.
On May 10, a Missouri Senate Committee advanced a resolution that would enact a trigger law passed in 2019 banning abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned. The law allows an exception for “cases of medical emergency.” The law also makes it felony to perform an abortion, but specifies that a person seeking an abortion wouldn’t be prosecuted.
The resolution refers to Section 188.017, cited as the “Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act,” of House Bill 126, also known as the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” — a trigger law passed in 2019 that bans abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy and makes inducing an abortion a Class B felony. A Class B felony is punishable by five to 15 years under Missouri law. Women seeking abortions would be exempt from prosecution.
Two other bills, Missouri House Bill 2810 and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 1178, were introduced to “modify provisions relating to abortion.” The bills would make it a Class B felony for a person or entity to commit the offense of trafficking abortion-inducing devices or drugs.
But the Missouri bills do not mention Plan B or any other form of contraception, according to a legal expert and pro-choice advocacy groups.
Sidney Watson, director of the Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University School of Law, explained to us in an email that Missouri’s abortion law “does not regulate methods of contraception like Plan B.”
“Missouri’s 2019 abortion law, House Bill 126, has a trigger provision that immediately goes into effect if the governor or the attorney general certify that Roe v Wade has been overturned. HB 126 regulates abortion, the termination of a pregnancy,” explained Watson. “It does not regulate methods of contraception like Plan B, which prevent pregnancy. The law specifically defines abortion as ‘termination of the pregnancy.'”
“I think some commentators are confused because HB 126 also contains a very broad definition of conception as occurring when ‘the fertilization of the ovum of a female by the sperm of a male.’ However, courts have interpreted this as a values statement not as controlling on the issue of what constitutes an abortion,” Watson said.
Pro-Choice Missouri, a pro-choice advocacy organization, tweeted, “Just the facts: Current Missouri abortion law does NOT jeopardize #BirthControl (like IUDs), Emergency Contraception (EC or ‘Plan B’) or fertility care (IVF), and neither do any of the bans we’re currently watching in #MoLeg.”
“Birth control does not meet the criteria for the definition of abortion under MO law,” tweeted a Planned Parenthood based in St. Louis. “Since birth control prevents pregnancy (and does not end an existing pregnancy), overturning #Roe will not block access to birth control.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
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