Louisiana House votes to criminalize abortion pills

The Louisiana House voted Tuesday to criminalize the possession of mifepristone and misoprostol without a prescription. The two drugs are used to induce a medicinal abortion.

This unprecedented effort would be the first example of a state declaring abortion drugs controlled substances. It was passed with 64 votes in favor and 29 votes against.

The measure now heads back to the Senate for a unanimous vote, and would then go to Governor Jeff Landry (R), who is expected to sign it.

The measure was added as an amendment to legislation sponsored by Senator Thomas Pressly (R), which created the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by fraud” – where someone knowingly gives abortion pills to a pregnant woman without her knowledge or permission. .

The measure would add the drugs to Louisiana's Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law, which regulates drugs that can be highly addictive, such as opioids, ephedrine and antidepressants.

In Louisiana, it is illegal to mail abortion pills, but shield laws in blue states have allowed doctors to thwart state bans and continue prescribing and sending them via online telehealth.

Louisiana legislation could stop that. Abortion rights advocates say the legislation will have a chilling effect and make it harder for women to access legitimately safe medications.

To prescribe controlled substances, doctors in the state need a special license, and the state keeps track of the patient, doctor and pharmacy involved in each prescription.

The amendment would criminalize possession for anyone who does not have a prescription or is a licensed provider, and subject offenders to up to five years in prison. It would exempt pregnant women who possess the pills “for their own use” from prosecution, but anyone who helps her obtain the pills is at risk, even if they never have an abortion.

Louisiana already bans surgical abortions and medication abortions, except to save a patient's life or because a pregnancy is “medically futile.”

Misoprostol especially has broad applications in reproductive health care, including for induction of labor, softening of the cervix during surgical procedures, and the medical treatment of miscarriages. It is also on the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Medicines.

Lauren Irwin contributed reporting

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