On Tuesday, Mayor Adams launched a significant expansion of health services for women in city clinics. One of the key components of the plan is the availability of mifepristone and misoprostol — the two FDA-approved pills used to induce abortions for women in need.
This means that women from other states, states where abortion is likely to be illegal, can come to New York and receive the drugs to have an abortion. This is a great first step, but if we really want to make abortion accessible to American women, there’s a law in Albany that could do even more.
Most women in red states who need abortion drugs don’t have the resources to travel here to get them. However, 85% of American adults now own a smartphone. This means they can order abortion pills online and receive them in the mail. It makes obtaining abortion drugs realistic, safe and possible.
I have a 16 year old daughter. If we lived in a red state and she got pregnant and couldn’t tell me about it, she wouldn’t know how to access abortion services in another state. She’s 16. But she has a phone. And she knows how to find and order anything online. Telemedicine can reach them and millions of women in a way no other approach can.
Just before the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, a small group of attorneys formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Mayday.Health (disclosure: my Tusk Philanthropies is one of Mayday’s founding partners and donors). Mayday’s premise is simple — it helps women step-by-step through the process of getting abortion pills in the mail. In particular, it provides two options – ordering pills from a European pharmacy like AidAccess, or setting up a forwarding mail address in a blue state where doctors can legally send the pills before forwarding them to a woman’s home in the red state. Mayday also connects visitors to medical and legal hotlines where they can ask any questions about the process.
So far, Mayday has reached tens of millions of people. Your most important traffic sources? Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana. Because even if your state may ban abortion, it can’t ban or monitor the internet or track every article in the mail. (In fact, the Justice Department recently issued a statement protecting the Post Office’s right to deliver these pills.)
However, for a doctor to participate, they want to know that their own legal risk is minimized. The laws banning abortion in red states carry harsh penalties. Physicians and medical providers need to know that they will not be prosecuted simply for helping a woman in Alabama or South Dakota exercise her rights. Albany now has a chance to do just that – to inspire far more doctors to help – by passing a crucial bill currently sitting in the Senate Health Committee.
The legislation, sponsored by Senator Shelley Mayer, protects doctors and medical providers in New York from prosecution, litigation or other interference by officials or residents in states that prohibit or restrict abortion services. If a doctor in New York prescribes mifepristone — a drug that the FDA says is perfectly legal nationally — to a woman in Kentucky, there’s nothing Kentucky can do about it. New York cannot extradite the doctor to Kentucky for prosecution.
The bill restricts the use of evidence against a doctor, prohibits New York courts from issuing a subpoena against the doctor, and prohibits New York law enforcement from arresting the doctor. It gives doctors and healthcare professionals the support and reassurance they need.
This is not a new concept. Last summer, Massachusetts passed the nation’s strongest shield law, protecting physicians from litigation, extradition, arrest, subpoena, license suspension or insurance complications. If New York joins Massachusetts, simply because of the high number of medical professionals residing in each state, exponentially more women in the red states would now have access to abortion drugs. And because everything that happens in New York is everywhere to be seen, our legislation could inspire other big blue states like California, New Jersey and Illinois to follow suit.
We debate the ethics and effectiveness of new technologies every day. Is artificial intelligence causing fraud in schools? Should drones be allowed to deliver parcels to your home? Should autonomous trucks be allowed to drive on freeways without a driver? Should cryptocurrency be regulated as a security? Is facial recognition a legitimate law enforcement tool? These are all legitimate questions. And sometimes the answer is that the cost of a new technology outweighs its benefits. But in this case, if you believe in a woman’s right to vote, technology is your friend. Albany should recognize that – and go through Mayer’s bill immediately.
Tusk is a venture capitalist and political strategist.