Louisiana passes bill to put abortion pills in same 'danger' category as opioids

READ MORE: The states where mifepristone abortion pill is already banned

Two abortion-inducing drugs could soon be reclassified as controlled and dangerous substances in Louisiana under a first-of-its-kind bill.

The legislation, which was approved by the state senate Thursday, would make carrying mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly known as 'abortion pills,' without as valid prescription punishable by up to five years in prison.

This would put the drugs, which went on sale over-the-counter in March as a historic first, in the same category as opioids, sleeping aids, amphetamines, and other drugs that have the 'potential for abuse,' according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The bill will now head to Republican Governor Jeff Landry, who is expected to sign it into law.

Supporters of the reclassification say it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions. However, several doctors have said it will make it harder for them to prescribe medications for other reproductive health concerns.

FILE - Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

FILE - Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

Limiting access to the abortion pill would have less impact on states with near total abortion bans because abortion is already completely blocked in most cases. It could have some impact on states where there are further restrictions in the books depending on the states

Passage of the bill comes as both abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone. The justices did not appear ready to limit access to the drug on the day they heard arguments.

The GOP-dominated Legislature´s push to reclassify mifepristone and misoprostol could possibly open the door for other Republican states with abortion bans that are seeking tighter restrictions on the drugs. Louisiana currently has a near-total abortion ban in place, applying both to surgical and medical abortions.

Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills by placing it on the list of Schedule IV drugs under the state´s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, which would be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics. Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time.

More than 200 doctors in the state signed a letter to lawmakers warning that it could produce a "barrier to physicians´ ease of prescribing appropriate treatment" and cause unnecessary fear and confusion among both patients and doctors. The physicians warn that any delay to obtaining the drugs could lead to worsening outcomes in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

"This goes too far. We have not properly vetted this with the health care community and I believe it´s going to lead to further harm down the road," said state Sen. Royce Duplessis, a Democrat who opposes the measure. "There´s a reason we rank at the bottom in terms of maternal health outcomes, and this is why."

Supporters say people would be prevented from unlawfully using the pills, though language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant woman who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.

The reclassification of the two drugs in Louisiana is an amendment to a bill originating in the Senate that would create the crime of "coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud." The sister of Republican state Sen. Thomas Pressly, who authored the bill, has shared her own story, of her husband slipping her abortion-inducing drugs without her knowledge or consent.

"The purpose of bringing this legislation is certainly not to prevent these drugs from being used for legitimate health care purposes," Senator Pressley said. "I am simply trying to put safeguards and guardrails in place to keep bad actors from getting these medications."

The Senate voted 29-7, mainly along party lines, to pass the legislation. In the 39-person Senate there are only five women, all of whom voted in favor of the bill.

In addition to inducing abortions, mifepristone and misoprostol have other common uses, such as treating miscarriages, inducing labor and stopping hemorrhaging.

Mifepristone was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 after federal regulators deemed it safe and effective for ending early pregnancies. It´s used in combination with misoprostol, which the FDA has separately approved to treat stomach ulcers.

The drugs are not classified as controlled substances by the federal government because regulators do not view them as carrying a significant risk of misuse. The federal Controlled Substances Act restricts the use and distribution of prescription medications such as opioids, amphetamines, sleeping aids and other drugs that carry the risk of addiction and overdose.

Abortion opponents and conservative Republicans both inside and outside the state have applauded the Louisiana bill. Conversely, the move has been strongly criticized by Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who in a social media post described it as "absolutely unconscionable."

The Louisiana legislation now heads to the desk of conservative Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. The governor, who was backed by former President Donald Trump during last year´s gubernatorial election, has indicated his support for the measure, remarking in a recent post on X, "You know you´re doing something right when @KamalaHarris criticizes you."

Landry´s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

A recent survey found that thousands of women in states with abortion bans or restrictions are receiving abortion pills in the mail from states that have laws protecting prescribers. The survey did not specify how many of those cases were in Louisiana.

Louisiana has a near-total abortion ban in place, which applies both to medical and surgical abortions. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the mother if she continues the pregnancy or in the case of "medically futile" pregnancies, when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.

FILE - Bottles of the drug misoprostol sit on a table at the West Alabama Women's Center, March 15, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

FILE - Bottles of the drug misoprostol sit on a table at the West Alabama Women's Center, March 15, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

FILE - Abortion-rights activists holds a signs as they protest outside of the Supreme Court during a rally, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

FILE - Abortion-rights activists holds a signs as they protest outside of the Supreme Court during a rally, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Louisiana lawmakers have approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would classify two abortion-inducing drugs as a controlled and dangerous substance. The final Senate vote Thursday, May 23, 2024, came despite widespread criticism from doctors, who note that the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

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