Louisiana passes bill to make abortion pills controlled dangerous substances

Louisiana lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that would add two drugs commonly used to induce abortion to the state's list of controlled dangerous substances, making possession of these drugs without a valid prescription a crime punishable by a fine. jail or both.

The measure, which has drawn support from anti-abortion groups and alarm from medical professionals and reproductive rights advocates, would add the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol to Schedule IV of the state's Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Abortion – both medical and surgical – is illegal in Louisiana, so it is already illegal to prescribe these medications to terminate a pregnancy, except in very specific circumstances.

Medical abortions accounted for 63% of all abortions in 2023according to the reproductive rights think tank Guttmacher Institute.

The bill was approved this Tuesday in a vote in the state House of Representatives, controlled by the Republican Party, by 64 votes in favor and 29 against.

The measure will now return to the Senate and, if approved, will be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

The legislation would punish possession of these medications without a valid prescription or order from a medical professional with up to five years in prison. Pregnant women who obtained the drugs for their own use would not be subject to prosecution, according to the legislation.

Health professionals have spoken out against the measure, arguing that the drugs have important uses beyond abortion, such as assisting in childbirth, treating miscarriages and preventing gastrointestinal ulcers.

Some narcotics are found in Schedule IV; medications from the depressant category, such as Xanax and Valium; muscle relaxants; sleeping pills; and stimulants that can be used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and weight loss.

The bill, Senate Bill 276, would also criminalize “criminal coerced abortion by fraud,” which would prohibit someone from knowingly using the medications to cause or attempt causing an abortion without the consent of the pregnant woman. This would be punishable by up to 10 years, or up to 20 years, if the pregnant woman was three or more months pregnant.

Republican state Sen. Thomas Pressly, who introduced the bill, has said the issue is personal for him and his sister, Catherine Herring. Herring's estranged husband was accused of slipping an abortifacient drug into her drink when she was pregnant with her third child. Mason Herring pleaded guilty to the charges in February and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

But doctors and reproductive rights advocates have expressed alarm at the bill, which would make Louisiana the only state to classify the two drugs as controlled dangerous substances.

They are safe and effective and they are not medications to be on a list of controlled dangerous substances,” Dr. Jennifer Avegno, emergency physician and director of the New Orleans Health Department. “From a medical point of view, health care providers think this is a product of bad science and a lack of information.”

“It's not about abortion. It's about using these medications, routinely for many, many other things. Firstly, to facilitate a safe delivery; secondly, to treat spontaneous abortions.”

Avegno is one of more than 250 doctors who wrote in a letter to Pressly that reclassifying the drugs would create “the false perception that they are dangerous drugs that require additional regulation” and said that the proposal “has no scientific basis.”

“Given its historically poor maternal health outcomes, Louisiana should prioritize safe, evidence-based care for pregnant women,” the doctors said.

Pressly told NBC News on Tuesday that the goal of the bill “is certainly not to provide an additional challenge to our medical providers, but ensure that these drugs are used appropriately and effectively for legitimate medical reasons that are outside abortion.” “As stated, abortion is already illegal in Louisiana.”

Following its introduction on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, state Rep. Mandie Landry, a Democrat, called for a motion to refer the bill back to the legislature's Health and Welfare Committee because of the amendment that would recategorize medications as controlled dangerous substances.

“This amendment has to do with the reclassification of medications that are used every day to induce labor, to treat spontaneous abortions, to treat problems following hemorrhage during pregnancy,” he stated.

Landry stressed that recategorization would require certain storage facilities to hold the medications, which could potentially hurt rural clinics' ability to access them and provide them to patients.

“I think it is horrible how this good bill was hijacked by outsiders who are not doctors, and are not even legislators,” he said.

Landry's motion was rejected by 66 votes in favor and 30 against.

Representative Julie Emerson, a Republican who presented the bill for a vote in the Lower House, assured that the amendment “does not mean that doctors cannot prescribe the medication and administer it. “It doesn’t mean they can’t prescribe it and people can’t go pick it up and continue using this medication.”

Abortion is prohibited in Louisiana with limited exceptions, among which are saving the life of a pregnant woman, preventing a “serious risk” to her health and if the fetus is not expected to survive the pregnancy. Earlier this month, a state legislative committee rejected a bill that would have added rape and incest to the exceptions.