Not Real News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address in the House Chamber of the Capitol building Jan. 31 in Nashville, Tenn. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming newly signed legislation in Tennessee “banned Plan B and made it a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine to order it.”

CLAIM: Newly signed legislation in Tennessee ‘banned Plan B and made it a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine to order it.’

THE FACTS: The law does not ban Plan B or emergency contraceptives used to reduce the risk of pregnancy after sex. It imposes strict penalties for distributing abortion pills — which are different from Plan B — via mail or delivery services and also bars pharmacists from dispensing the drugs. A tweet spreading the erroneous information about the new law spread widely in recent days, gaining tens of thousands of shares and likes before it was deleted.

“Tennessee just banned Plan B and made it a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine to order it,” read the tweet from Pam Keith, an attorney and Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Florida in 2020.

But that’s not what the legislation does. Keith did not respond to a request for comment, but suggested in a later tweet that she misunderstood the law. Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed HB 2416 into law last week. As The Associated Press reported, the legislation further regulates how abortion pills can be distributed. The law requires that a medical clinician be physically present when such pills are distributed — and bars them from being delivered by mail or dispensed by a pharmacist. It adds harsh penalties for providers who violate the provisions, including potential felony charges or a fine of up to $50,000. The bill specifically refers to “abortion-inducing drugs” that are provided with the aim of “terminating the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a patient.” That’s not the same as Plan B.

Dr. John Schorge, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, noted in an email that Plan B medications are “basically oral contraceptives which in normal circumstances are given to regulate periods, prevent pregnancy and can have other health benefits.” They’re available as an emergency contraceptive to prevent pregnancy — sometimes referred to as a “morning after” option.

The office of state Rep. Debra Moody, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said in an emailed statement that the “Tennessee General Assembly did not ban Plan B. We passed a law banning mail-order abortions.”

“The new law simply says that a patient must meet in-person with a qualified physician in order to get a prescription for an abortion-inducing drug,” the statement said.

The legislation will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. Use of abortion pills has been rising in the U.S. since 2000 when the FDA approved mifepristone — the main drug used in medication abortions. More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills, rather than surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.