Louisiana house votes to criminalize abortion pills

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

The unprecedented effort would be the first instance of a state declaring abortion drugs as controlled substances. It was passed by a vote of 64 yeas and 29 nays.

The measure now heads back to the state Senate for a concurring vote, and then would head to Gov. Jeff Landry (R) who is expected to sign it.

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

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

Abortion pills are illegal to get through the mail in Louisiana, but shield laws in blue states have allowed physicians to thwart state bans and continue prescribing and sending them through online telehealth.

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

To prescribe controlled substances, physicians in the state need a special license, and the state tracks the patient, physician and pharmacy involved in each prescription.

The amendment would criminalize possession for anyone who doesn’t have a prescription or is a licensed provider, and subject violators to up to five years in prison. It would exempt from prosecution pregnant women who possess the pills “for her own consumption,” but anyone who helps her get the pills would be at risk, even if they never perform an abortion.

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

Misoprostol especially has wide-ranging applications in reproductive health including for labor induction, to soften the cervix during surgical procedures and medical management of miscarriage. It’s also on the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines.

Lauren Irwin contributed reporting

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