By LISA RATHKE
Vermont’s Republican governor signed abortion and gender affirming shield bills into law Wednesday that are the first in the country to explicitly include protecting access to a medication widely used in abortions even if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration withdraws its approval of the pill, mifepristone.
The bills protect providers from discipline for providing legally protected reproductive and gender affirming health care services.
“Today, we reaffirm once again that Vermont stands on the side of privacy, personal autonomy and reproductive liberty, and that providers are free to practice without fear,” Republican Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement.
In the identical bills passed by the House and Senate, “reproductive health care services” includes “medication that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for termination of a pregnancy as of January 1, 2023, regardless of the medication’s current FDA approval status.” Planned Parenthood believes other states’ shield laws will cover the issue but that Vermont’s law makes it explicit, according to Lucy Leriche, of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court preserved women’s access to the drug, rejecting lower-court restrictions while a lawsuit continues. The justices granted emergency requests from the Biden administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, maker of mifepristone, which are appealing a Texas lower court ruling that would roll back FDA approval of mifepristone. The next step in the case is arguments before the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on May 17.
“Unfortunately, we can’t say how these legal protections will actually play out based on what happens in the Fifth Circuit Court, and likely appeals to that decision no matter what happens,” said Isabel Guarnieri, of the Guttmacher Institute, which describes itself as a research and policy organization that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights, by email. “All we know is that there’s going to be a ton of chaos and confusion.”
Greer Donley, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who is an expert in abortion law, said states cannot allow medications the federal government prohibits. But that does not mean the federal government would enforce its ban if states go their own way.