Louisiana Legislature Green-Lights Criminalizing Abortion Medication

Louisiana is poised to legally reclassify abortion care medication as a dangerous controlled substance punishable with jail time if obtained without a prescription.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled Louisiana state Senate voted 29 to 7 to advance Senate Bill No. 276 to the state’s Republican governor, Jeff Landry, who is expected to give his signature.

The bill would reclassify the abortion medication drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol — which are the most common medications used to induce abortion or treat a miscarriage — as Schedule IV controlled substances. This would qualify the drugs for levels of control akin to dependency-prone medications like Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax.

The legislation would level criminal penalties against those found in possession of the drugs without a prescription — punishable with up to 10 years in jail. While there is an exception for pregnant women found in possession of the drug, the bill would also make it “unlawful for a physician or other person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion, with or without the consent of the pregnant female.”

S.B. 276 was originally intended to criminalize giving a woman abortion medication in a fraudulent manner. The idea for the law was conceived by state Sen. Thomas Pressly (R) after his sister, Catherine Herring, was slipped abortion medication without her consent by her husband, who pleaded guilty to drugging her drinks in a plea deal. The bill was later expanded to include the reclassification of abortion-inducing medication.

Earlier this year, more than 280 physicians signed a letter urging Pressly to strike the amendments, arguing they create “the false perceptions that these are dangerous drugs.”

“Mischaracterizing misoprostol, a drug routinely and safely used on labor units throughout the state, as a dangerous drug of abuse creates confusion and misinformation, and harms women seeking high quality maternal care,” the letter read.

Louisiana already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws — and one of the highest maternal mortality rates —  in the country. Abortion is almost entirely banned in the state, with extremely limited exemptions. Doctors worry that increased restrictions on common pregnancy medication will only worsen outcomes for patients in the state.

“Literally every single day on labor and delivery, someone, if not multiple people, is receiving misoprostol for induction of labor,” Nicole Freehill, a New Orleans-based OB-GYN, previously told Rolling Stone. “It’s a very inexpensive medication and very effective at preventing hemorrhage, for IUD insertions, for endometrial biopsies, to prep a patient’s cervix when they have a miscarriage. It’s utilized for so many things and on a very regular basis.”

“Misoprostol is such a literal life-saver,” Freehill added. “It’s disappointing this bill is moving forward, but I am still hopeful the Senate and/or the governor will listen to the hundreds of physicians who are opposed to this change and not pass or sign the bill.”

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