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Louisiana governor signs bill making two abortion drugs controlled dangerous substances

Jeff Landry of Louisiana speaks at a podium in 2020.
Melinda Deslatte
AP, file
In a statement, Gov. Jeff Landry says: “Requiring an abortion- inducing drug to be obtained with a prescription and criminalizing the use of an abortion drug on an unsuspecting mother is nothing short of common sense."

The law affects mifepristone and misoprostol. Supporters say it protects expectant mothers from coerced abortions. Opponents say the drugs have other uses and the law will make them harder to prescribe.

First-of-its-kind legislation that classifies two abortion-inducing drugs as controlled and dangerous substances was signed into law Friday by Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry.

The Republican governor announced his signing of the bill in Baton Rouge a day after it gained final legislative passage in the state Senate.

The measure affects the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in medication abortions, the most common method of abortion in the U.S..

Opponents of the bill included many physicians who said the drugs have other critical reproductive health care uses, and that changing the classification could make it harder to prescribe the medications.

“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 Democratic Sen. Royce Duplessis, who voted against the measure. “There’s a reason we rank at the bottom in terms of maternal health outcomes, and this is why.”

Supporters of the bill said it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions, though they cited only one example of that happening, in the state of Texas.

The bill passed as abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone.

The new law will take effect on Oct. 1.

The bill began as a measure to create the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud.” An amendment adding the abortion drugs to the Schedule IV classification of Louisiana's Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law was pushed by Sen. Thomas Pressly, a Republican from Shreveport and the main sponsor of the bill.

“Requiring an abortion-inducing drug to be obtained with a prescription and criminalizing the use of an abortion drug on an unsuspecting mother is nothing short of common sense," Landry said in a statement.

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. Other Schedule IV drugs include the opioid tramadol and a group of depressants known as benzodiazepines.

Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time. Language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant women who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.

The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, and the drugs would have to be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics.

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

More than 200 doctors in the state signed a letter to lawmakers warning that the measure 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.

Pressly said he pushed the legislation because of what happened to his sister Catherine Herring, of Texas. In 2022, Herring’s husband slipped her seven misoprostol pills in an effort to induce an abortion 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," Pressly 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. The measure passed the House, 64-29.