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Latest Texas abortion law clamps down on abortions administered through pills

NOEL KING, HOST:

Texas has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and today they get even more restrictive. The state's latest law limits access to medication abortions, which are administered through pills. Here's Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: For decades, abortion was only available as a medical procedure at a clinic. But in 2000, the FDA approved the use of two pills, taken 48 hours apart, to end a pregnancy, often at home. It's called a medication abortion, and it's allowed for early pregnancies - up to 10 weeks. Now a new law in Texas tightens that window to seven weeks. Ordinarily, this would have a big impact on Texans seeking abortions because most people prefer this method early in a pregnancy. But since September, almost all abortions are outlawed in Texas after about six weeks. That's why Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas says this new law won't have an immediate impact.

SARAH WHEAT: Because most people at this stage of a pregnancy are already banned from accessing abortion in Texas because we have the statewide abortion ban in place.

LOPEZ: But the new law does something else that could affect abortion in the future. It cracks down on prescribing abortion pills via telehealth and sending them to patients through the mail. This was already illegal in Texas, but the new law applies criminal penalties - up to two years in prison and a possible fine of $10,000.

WHEAT: This law basically is creating additional fear and additional stigma for people who may be seeking access to medication abortion.

LOPEZ: For anti-abortion groups, though, it's a victory. After the statewide ban on abortions after six weeks, this is like Act 2 in their efforts. John Seago with Texas Right to Life says his group wanted to make sure law enforcement can crack down on the distribution of these pills.

JOHN SEAGO: This piece is really important for this period, but also moving forward into the future when we see, even after Roe, we have organizations and individuals advertising that they will mail abortion-inducing drugs.

LOPEZ: It's not just Texas, either. In 2021 alone, five other states passed laws against sending abortion pills through the mail. Elizabeth Nash is a state policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute.

ELIZABETH NASH: It's a squeeze play on abortion.

LOPEZ: Nash says this crackdown is partially a response to the pandemic.

NASH: We saw the increase and really sort of the coming out of telehealth as part of medical practice.

LOPEZ: She said in some states, it became easier during the pandemic for people to get medication abortions through telehealth. But John Seago with Texas Right to Life says he wants to make sure that doesn't happen in Texas.

SEAGO: You're kind of seeing that this is going to be a future public policy issue around abortion, no matter what happens with Roe v. Wade.

LOPEZ: Planned Parenthood's Sarah Wheat says the state's latest law shows that there is no end to efforts aimed at making abortion harder and harder to access.

WHEAT: We already have the most extreme abortion ban in the U.S., and yet our Legislature made it a priority to add this additional abortion restriction. So our politicians - they do not quit, and they can find endless ways to add fear, intimidation and restrictions.

LOPEZ: No one has filed suit against this new Texas law on abortion pills. That's because abortion providers are waiting to see what the courts do about Texas's far more restrictive ban on any type of abortion after about six weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "OOBLECK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.