A new procedure adopted in the past month by one of the largest abortion pill suppliers now allows U.S. medical professionals in certain Democrat-led states that have passed abortion “shield” laws to prescribe and mail pills directly to patients in antiabortion states, the Washington Post reports. Previously, Europe-based Aid Access allowed only Europe-based doctors to prescribe abortion pills to women in states where abortion is restricted and then shipped those pills internationally, leaving patients to wait weeks. The telemedicine shield laws, enacted over the past year in New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont and Colorado, explicitly protect abortion providers who mail pills to restricted states from inside their borders. The result is a new pipeline of legally prescribed abortion pills flowing into states with abortion bans.
The development tees up a complicated interstate battle where doctors on U.S. soil are empowered to legally circumvent abortion laws — allowing blue states to potentially undermine the red state bans that many Republicans hoped would end abortion within their borders. The shield laws are “a huge breakthrough for people who need abortions in banned states,” said David Cohen, a Drexel University law professor who focuses on abortion legislation. “Providers are protected in many ways as long as they remain in the state with the shield law.” Some lawyers say these doctors could face repercussions, even if they steer clear of traveling to states in which abortion bans call for prosecuting abortion providers. At a minimum, some experts said, the question of legal peril could wind up in a gray area ultimately resolved by the courts, such as whether shield-law states have the power to block other states from extraditing people charged with crimes. Jonathan Mitchell, the former solicitor general of Texas and architect of the state’s six-week abortion ban, said it was too early to predict how these shield laws would play out, but said the providers may face consequences. “There absolutely is a world in which they could get in trouble for it,” he said. “Someone in Texas could do a sting operation and charge them with attempted murder.”