Louisiana Is the 1st State to Criminalize Possession of Medication Abortion With Sneaky New Law

The law threatens a majority of people holding mifepristone or misoprostol pills—which are also used in other medical situations—with five years in prison. 

Louisiana Is the 1st State to Criminalize Possession of Medication Abortion With Sneaky New Law
Update, May 28: Late Friday, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry (R) signed a bill that threatens a majority of people, namely non-pregnant people, holding medication abortion—specifically mifepristone or misoprostol pills—with five years of prison, and adds these medications to the state’s controlled substances list. Louisiana, which has already imposed a total ban on abortion since 2022, is the first state in the nation to take such a drastic step toward criminalizing not just doctors who provide abortions, but people who hold abortion pills. Original story below.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion has been totally outlawed across Louisiana. Still, the state appears poised to take this a step further and threaten not just doctors who provide abortion but almost anyone who possesses abortion pills with prison time. 

On Tuesday, May 21, Louisiana became the first state in the nation to pass a bill out of the state House that would criminalize possession of mifepristone or misoprostol pills—which are used to facilitate medication abortions but are also used in a range of other medical situations—without a valid prescription. Pregnant people who are imminently about to use the pills to terminate a pregnancy would be exempt, but as one legal expert previously raised with Jezebel, it’s unclear how law enforcement would determine if someone is definitely pregnant and definitely about to take the medication.

The bill, SB 276, would make “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud” a crime and would add medication abortion to the state’s controlled dangerous substances list as a Schedule IV drug. State Rep. Mandie Landry (D) spoke out against the bill on Tuesday, pointing out that a substance must be addictive to be classified under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law: “Nothing has changed to make these drugs addictive,” Landry said, per HuffPost. “You cannot be addicted to misoprostol unless you get pregnant once a month, I guess.”

The classification of abortion pills as a “controlled substance” comes as demand for abortion pills has surged across the country in the face of abortion bans, leading conservative commentators and Republican politicians to baselessly push a narrative equating medication abortion with fentanyl and other deadly narcotics in recent years. This summer, the Supreme Court will rule on whether a group of anti-abortion doctors has legal standing to sue the FDA over rule changes it made in 2016 and 2021 to make abortion pills more accessible.

Of course, all available data shows that abortion pills are highly safe and very rarely result in complications. Dana Sussman, senior vice president of Pregnancy Justice, told Jezebel that with “no medical or scientific justification whatsoever,” the bill “draws on the same framework of the War on Drugs.” It further “builds on the blueprint for broader abortion and pregnancy-related criminalization that we’ve been seeing for some time.”

Via Shutterstock

State Sen. Thomas Pressly (R) introduced the bill in February on behalf of his sister, whose husband added abortion pills to her drink without her consent. The bill prohibits anyone from knowingly using abortion medications to cause or attempt to cause an abortion without a pregnant person’s consent; this is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or up to 20 years if the pregnant person was three months or more into a pregnancy. Yet, importantly, drugging someone without their consent is already a criminal offense. As one OB/GYN previously told Rolling Stone: “Your husband should not slip you abortion pills without you knowing it, that story is terrible. But linking that with this is totally backwards,” and using a bill like this as a backdoor to criminalize possession of abortion pills “feels very sneaky.”

On May 7, 250 doctors in the state wrote a letter to Pressley urging him to reconsider how his bill treats medication abortion. “Given its historically poor maternal health outcomes, Louisiana should prioritize safe and evidence-based care for pregnant women,” the doctors wrote. 

“The majority of people with a uterus have had a reason to need misoprostol at some point,” Louisiana maternal fetal medicine specialist Dr. Jane Martin, who was one of the doctors to sign the letter, told Jezebel earlier this month. Mifepristone and misoprostol are also used to treat ulcers, miscarriage, and postpartum hemorrhaging, as well as safely induce labor, or help prepare someone to have an IUD inserted. “We already have to spend a lot of our time convincing patients that the recommendations we are making are valid and evidence-based. Adding any kind of control or restrictions to how a medication is distributed or seen by the general public will add to that layer of difficulty.”

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