Where does Tennessee stand on telehealth and abortion pills?

Posted at 9:34 AM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 03:34:50-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, we are taking an in-depth look at telehealth, abortion and what options will even exist when it comes to abortions in strict states.

For perspective on where Tennessee sits in terms of abortion, the trigger law goes into effect in late July. It would ban abortion outright, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

However, this week, an appeals court lifted an injunction on Tennessee's fetal heartbeat bill, essentially ending abortions in Tennessee. The law bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected, which is typically around six weeks.

Kentucky's trigger law went into effect immediately, banning abortions unless the life of the mother is at risk.

When it comes to abortion pills, they can terminate a pregnancy usually up to 10 weeks.

Data shows 75% of abortions happened within that time frame in Tennessee in 2018, which is the most recent data available.

The big question is: are there options for women in states like Tennessee when it comes to this kind of treatment?

The answer is: it's complicated.

Our sister station ABC10 in San Diego, spoke with Harry Nelson, an attorney based in California who specializes in giving legal advice to telehealth providers.

He said the general rule is people are supposed to be treated where they live, but folks move, go away to school, etc.

Some telehealth providers will not be able to prescribe across state lines, but there could be loopholes.

As an example, Nelson said some organizations in California have already said they will receive an abortion pill on behalf of a patient and send it to them in the mail.

“I think it’s going to be impossible for these hostile states to actually prevent people from prescribing or just mailing the medication in," Nelson said.

Here in Tennessee, there was a new law passed in the most recent legislative session making it a Class E felony with up to $50,000 in fines for anyone distributing pills like this through telehealth or mail.

That does not mean it is not available at all. It just means an abortion pill can only legally be prescribed in person. After the trigger law takes effect that would have to be before a heartbeat is detected.

Editorial note: This story was updated with new information clarifying the decision to lift an injunction on the fetal heartbeat law this week.