Louisiana passes bill to make abortion pills a controlled dangerous substance

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

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

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

The bill passed Tuesday in a vote in the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives, 64-29.

The legislation would make possession of the medications without a valid prescription or an order from a medical professional punishable by up to five years in prison. Pregnant people who obtain the medications for their own consumption would not be subject to prosecution, according to the legislation.

Medical professionals have spoken out against the measure, saying the medications have critical uses outside of abortion care, including aiding in labor and delivery, miscarriage treatment, and the prevention of gastrointestinal ulcers.

Schedule IV substances include some narcotics; medications within the category of depressants, such as Xanax and Valium; muscle relaxants; sleep aids; and stimulants that can be used to treat ADHD and weight loss.

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

Republican state Sen. Thomas Pressly, who introduced the bill, has said the issue is personal to him and his sister, Catherine Herring. Herring’s estranged husband was accused of slipping abortion medication into her drinks when she was pregnant with their third child. Mason Herring pleaded guilty to the allegations 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 categorize the two medications as controlled dangerous substances.

“They are safe and effective and they are not dangerous drugs of abuse to be on a schedule of a controlled dangerous substance list,” Dr. Jennifer Avegno, an emergency medicine physician and the director of the New Orleans Health Department, told NBC News on Tuesday. “From a medical standpoint, healthcare providers think this is bad science, and not well informed.”

“This is not about abortion. This is about using these drugs, routinely for many, many other things. Mainly, number one to facilitate safe childbirth, number two miscarriage management,” she said.

Avegno is one of more than 250 doctors who wrote in a letter to Pressly that reclassifying the medications would create “the false perception that these are dangerous drugs that require additional regulation” and said that the proposal was “not scientifically based.”

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

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

After it was introduced in the House Tuesday afternoon, State Rep. Mandie Landry, a Democrat, called for a motion to recommit the bill to the legislature’s Health and Welfare Committee because of the amendment that would recategorize the medications as controlled dangerous substances.

“This amendment is about rescheduling drugs that are used every single day to induce labor, to manage miscarriages, to manage post-hemorrhage issues with a pregnancy," she said.

Landry said the recategorization would require certain storage facilities to store the drugs, which could potentially hurt the ability of rural clinics to access them and provide them to patients.

“I think it’s horrible how this good bill was hijacked by outsiders who are not doctors, and aren’t even legislators,” she said.

Landry's motion was voted down, 66-30.

Rep. Julie Emerson, a Republican who introduced the bill for the House vote, said that the amendment “does not mean the doctors cannot prescribe this and administer this. This doesn’t mean they can’t prescribe it, and that people can’t go pick it up and still use this medication.”

Abortion is banned in Louisiana with limited exceptions, which include to save a pregnant person’s life, to prevent “serious risk” to their health and if the fetus is not expected to survive pregnancy. Earlier this month, a Louisiana legislative committee rejected a bill that would have added cases of rape and incest to the exceptions.

louisiana passes bill to make abortion pills a controlled dangerous substance
Daniella Silva

Daniella Silva is a national reporter for NBC News, focusing on immigration and education.

louisiana passes bill to make abortion pills a controlled dangerous substance
Marissa Parra

Marissa Parra is a national correspondent for NBC News based in Miami, Florida.

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