Anticipating an upcoming relaxation of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocols regarding mail-order, aka telemedicine or webcam, abortions, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has issued an executive order (EO) directing the state’s Department of Health to come up with emergency rules banning the practice in that state.

Citing the risks to women inherent in eliminating in-person consultation with a doctor before taking the abortion pill (which is actually two pills taken within days of each other), Noem declared it was time to act until such time as the state legislature could meet to formalize the ban.

“The Biden Administration is continuing to overstep its authority and suppress legislatures that are standing up for the unborn to pass strong pro-life laws,” Noem said in a press release. “They are working right now to make it easier to end the life of an unborn child via telemedicine abortion. That is not going to happen in South Dakota. I will continue working with the legislature and my Unborn Child Advocate to ensure that South Dakota remains a strong pro-life state.”

Up until July 2020, the FDA had required the abortion pill to be dispensed in-person by a physician. A federal court at that time ordered the rules relaxed in response to a lawsuit from the abortion industry, but the Supreme Court stepped in and blocked the order from taking effect pending further legal appeals.

In April 2021, before the legal process was finished, the FDA removed the requirement for the duration of the pandemic, citing the risks associated with in-person consultations due to COVID-19. More importantly, the FDA is currently in a rule-making process that will likely make the elimination of the doctor visit a permanent feature of its protocols by November.

Noem’s EO requires that abortion medication be prescribed or dispensed only after an in-person examination by a doctor licensed in South Dakota. It also bans abortion medication from “being provided via courier, delivery, telemedicine, or mail service,” as well as on state grounds or in schools.

The EO cites a recent study of 20 years of reported events surrounding chemical abortions that shows “that women can experience severe and life-threatening side-effects after taking the abortion pills, including heavy bleeding, intense pain, and even death.” The EO also points out that women are 30% more susceptible to dying from an ectopic pregnancy while taking the abortion pill than if they had an ectopic pregnancy but didn’t seek an abortion. 

The executive order also directs the Department of Health to do the following:

  • Develop licensing requirements for “pill only” abortion clinics;
  • Collect empirical data on how often chemical abortions are performed as a percentage of all abortions, including how often women experience complications that require a medical follow-up; and
  • Enhance reporting requirements on emergency room complications related to chemical abortion.

Pro-life organizations were quick to hail the governor’s executive order.

“We commend Governor Noem for taking this bold action that will save lives from dangerous chemical abortions, which have a fourfold higher rate of complications compared to surgical abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of Susan B. Anthony List. “States must take action. Governor Noem is setting a courageous model today that we hope more state leaders across the nation will soon follow.”

“I applaud Governor Noem’s action today to stop dangerous chemical abortion drugs from being mailed to South Dakota women,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, President and CEO of Americans United for Life. “This is no longer about ‘a woman and her doctor,’ but a woman – or girl – and a stranger on the internet.

“States can no longer depend on the FDA to regulate abortion drugs in any meaningful way, and I am pleased to see Governor Noem step up for her state. Abortion is never safe, but it’s far more dangerous when women are abandoned by physicians and left to manage their complications alone.”

Abortion sellers, predictably, condemned the executive order.

“We know most South Dakotans support the right to safe, legal abortion, but Noem is following a vocal minority that is attacking abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sexual education in this country,” Kristin Hayward, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, told the Argus Leader. “Planned Parenthood will always stand up for patients and communities.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, South Dakota joins 19 other states that require the abortion pill to be dispensed by a doctor in the same room with the woman seeking the abortion.

Photo from Shutterstock.