Louisiana GOP Wants to Add Abortion Pills to the State’s Controlled Substances List

With “no medical or scientific justification whatsoever,” the new bill draws on the same framework of the War on Drugs to “expand the scope of pregnancy-related criminalization,” one legal expert told Jezebel.

Louisiana GOP Wants to Add Abortion Pills to the State’s Controlled Substances List

This week, Louisiana Republicans added amendments to a bill that would add medication abortion pills—specifically mifepristone and misoprostol—to the state’s controlled substances list. Under the state’s current abortion ban, only abortion providers are explicitly threatened with criminal charges and prison time for providing abortion care. But under this bill, it would be a crime to possess abortion pills without a valid prescription, to hold the pills for someone else, or to have the pills if you aren’t pregnant and imminently planning to take them, which is also known as “advance provision.” Those in violation could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“This bill just builds on the blueprint for broader abortion and pregnancy-related criminalization that we’ve been seeing for some time,” Dana Sussman, senior vice president of Pregnancy Justice, told Jezebel. And while the bill claims it won’t criminalize people who are pregnant and intend to take the pills, Sussman questions how law enforcement could possibly discern whether someone is pregnant and holding the pills for their own consumption “unless they’re already under investigation by law enforcement.” The requirement that someone prove they’re pregnant and plan on imminently using the pills—and enforcement of the bill, in general—would be “incredibly invasive and intrusive,” Sussman said.

The amendments are part of an effort to make “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud” a crime. State Sen. Thomas Pressly (R) filed the bill, SB 276, on behalf of his sister, whose husband added abortion pills to her drink without her consent. Pressly claimed at a committee hearing on Tuesday that he’s “aware of increasing incidents of men using threats of violence or duress to cause women to take abortion pills against their will,” pushing a common anti-abortion narrative that ignores how taking away the option of accessing abortion can trap women in abusive situations.

“Your husband should not slip you abortion pills without you knowing it, that story is terrible. But linking that with this is totally backwards,” an OB-GYN told Rolling Stone. They added that using this bill as a backdoor to criminalize possession of abortion pills “feels very sneaky.”

The Louisiana bill comes as demand for abortion pills has surged 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 2023, one Michigan Republican called Plan B (which is not the same as abortion pills, BTW) “no different than fentanyl,” while a coalition of anti-abortion groups filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration arguing that mifepristone and misoprostol are a “dangerous drug regimen.” 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.

To be clear, all available data shows that abortion pills are highly safe and very rarely result in complications. Sussman told Jezebel that with “no medical or scientific justification whatsoever,” the new Louisiana Senate bill “draws on the same framework of the War on Drugs,” which has disproportionately ravaged communities of color and poor people, to “expand the scope of pregnancy-related criminalization.” According to Pregnancy Justice’s tracking, the majority of criminal charges that pregnant people have faced involve alleged substance use and “chemical endangerment” charges or similar charges.

Sussman points to how, in January 2023, Alabama’s attorney general said that people could be prosecuted under chemical endangerment charges for taking abortion pills. Even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and in states without abortion bans, laws like this have been used “hundreds of times to prosecute pregnant people who test positive for or possess substances.”

Last year, Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director at If/When/How, told Jezebel that attempts to equate medication abortion with criminalized substances and deadly narcotics are part of a broader strategy of criminalizing abortion and policing pregnancy, even without abortion bans. To identify medication abortion as a “controlled substance,” Sussman says, is about building on the stigma around substance use to “open the door for a new form of prosecution that we have not typically seen”—that is, prosecution for merely possessing abortion pills if you yourself are not about to use them.

The OB-GYN who spoke to Rolling Stone said the bill could also have a range of unintended consequences, as misoprostol is used and prescribed by doctors for many reasons, including miscarriage care, inducing labor, and cervical ripening before inserting an IUD. The bill would be a “potential disaster” for Louisiana’s medical community, which already lives in “sheer terror” and confusion about what they can and can’t legally do under the state’s abortion laws.

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