Tennessee Republican leaders not planning to ban contraception

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Top Republican leaders in Tennessee say they don't have plans to ban contraceptives as they await a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case will be overturned.

Earlier this month, a leaked draft opinion suggested the nation's highest court is poised to abolish a nationwide right to abortion. The news quickly sparked concern from some reproductive rights advocates, who warned if SCOTUS does overturn Roe then lawmakers may look to impose restrictions surrounding emergency contraception and IUDs.

However, Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton all said this week that they are not currently considering banning contraceptives in the Republican-controlled state even as they support and push for strict anti-abortion laws.

"I can't promise what members may or may not file next year, but I don't have an issue with oral contraceptives," Sexton told The Associated Press on Thursday.

However, Sexton said that he had received questions on whether the General Assembly will attempt to stop pregnant women from going out of state to get an abortion. He did not say whether he supported such proposals; instead, the Republican said he's waiting on the Supreme Court to issue their official decision on Roe.

"We're all pontificating on what it may or may not be off of a draft, and so it's hard to pontificate until you actually know what the opinion is," he said.

Lee, who has signed off on some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country, also said he is not considering a contraception ban nor any attempts to criminalize women who seek out abortions.

"There is no law in our books that deals with emergency contraception and there are no plans for such," Lee told reporters on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Senate Speaker Randy McNally said any attempt to conflate contraception and abortion was a "flagrant attempt to change the conversation," stressing that contraceptives will continue to be available, however the high court rules on Roe.

"(McNally) has also voted to make contraceptives available over the counter," said Adam Kleinheider in an email. "He has not and would not support additional restrictions on contraceptives."

Erroneous information about contraception in Tennessee recently spread widely on social media after a former Democratic congressional candidate tweeted that "Tennessee just banned Plan B and made it a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine to order it." While Pam Keith eventually deleted the false statement, the post earned tens of thousands of shares and retweets.

Instead, Tennessee recently enacted a law that will impose strict penalties for distributing abortion pills via mail or delivery services and also bars pharmacists from dispensing the drugs. Medication abortion is not the same thing as emergency contraception, also known as Plan B or the morning-after pill.

Plan B contains a concentrated dose of the same drug found in many regular birth-control pills. If a woman takes Plan B within 72 hours of unprotected sex, she can lower the risk of pregnancy significantly. Plan B is different from the abortion pill: If a woman already is pregnant, Plan B has no effect.


Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.

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