Texas Republicans Introduce Bill to Censor Abortion Pill Websites

Lawmakers introduced legislation that would require internet providers to block access to the sites within state borders. Freedom, etc!

Texas Republicans Introduce Bill to Censor Abortion Pill Websites
Photo:OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty (Getty Images)

Update 2/28/23: Texas Rep. Steve Toth (R) has introduced a bill that would, among other things, clamp down on internet access to abortion information. House Bill 2690 says internet service providers “shall make every reasonable and technologically feasible effort to block Internet access to information or material intended to assist or facilitate efforts to obtain an elective abortion or an abortion-inducing drug.” It’s not clear if this provision would have any teeth as customers can only notify ISPs and the state can only “request” or “encourage” them to comply. Still, the bill text specifically names Aid Access, telehealth sites that don’t serve Texas, and pill information site Plan C as sites that should be censored. It also says ISPs should block access to websites of abortion providers and abortion funds.

HB 2690 would also allow people to sue people who transport abortion pills to Texas, give pills to Texans, or “provide information” on how to get abortion pills, but exempts the pregnant person themselves. And, finally, the bill seeks to criminalize abortion funds for helping people get care in OTHER states. The bill says it’s a felony for anyone to pay for a Texas resident get an abortion, regardless of “the location at which the elective abortion is performed” and “the law of the jurisdiction in which the elective abortion is performed.” This proposed legislation raises lots of First Amendment alarm bells and we’ll be following it.

Original story published December 14, 2022, below:

Anti-abortion advocates are very mad that abortion pills exist, because they allow people to end their pregnancies at home without having to face protesters—and circumvent state bans that have shuttered clinics. Anti-abortion activists have already filed lawsuits that could ban blue-state medical providers from prescribing medication abortions, and lawmakers plan to target abortion pills even harder in 2023, according to new reporting from the Washington Post.

One plan involves Texas lawmakers drafting legislation to censor abortion pill websites, including Aid Access, a service run by a Dutch doctor. The European-based site launched in 2018 due to dwindling access in the U.S. and, about a year ago, it started to offer “advance provision” of abortion pills to people in all 50 states before they’re pregnant.

The Post reports that Texas Republicans are preparing to introduce a bill for the January 2023 session that “would require internet providers to block abortion pill websites in the same way they can censor child [sexual abuse material].” John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life, the state’s biggest anti-abortion group, told said the effort would target Aid Access as well as pharmacy sites not run by medical providers.

Beyond the fact that managing your own abortion with pills is not a crime, it’s deeply ironic that the self-professed party of freedom—one that rails against censorship in other countries like China—wants to block access to a website. The Post did note that “even antiabortion lawyers say that effort would raise free speech concerns.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, described abortion pills as a “cataclysmic problem.” She told the Post it’s the second question she asks Republicans who seem likely to run for president in 2024. (The first is about their comfort with advocating for a national abortion ban at either six weeks or 15 weeks.) “We don’t have to dictate their solution [for pills],” Dannenfelser said. “But they have to have one.” Dannenfelser said she’s also working with Republican governors, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, on how to crack down on word-of-mouth networks where activists mail pills from countries like Mexico.

Another group, Students for Life, plans to focus on weaponizing environmental regulations and wants to create a team of “student investigators” to test wastewater in hopes of finding “contamination” from abortion pills. They plan to use that information to ask Republican Attorneys General to issue “statewide injunctions” on abortion pills, though it’s not clear how that would be enforced short of rifling through every resident’s mail.

These planned attacks aren’t surprising, as Greer Donley, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, recently told Jezebel: “They’re trying to do whatever they can to go after pills.”

This feels like a great time to repeat the fact that Aid Access is trusted service that will ship abortion pills to anywhere in the U.S.!

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