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Louisiana Abortion
State lawmakers in Louisiana are considering a bill that would add further restrictions to abortion pills. Rebecca Santana/AP

Activists Want to Combat Abortion Pills. Louisiana Lawmakers May Have Found a Way.

“These bad ideas spread like a virus,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told NOTUS.

Anti-abortion lawmakers and activists in Louisiana have a new idea for how to curb access to the procedure: classifying abortion pills as controlled substances. And it could be copied by other states eager to thwart the common abortion method.

“I wish I would have thought of it,” said James Bopp Jr., general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee and a conservative lawyer largely credited with engineering the strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The state House of Representatives in Louisiana, which already prohibits abortion, passed a bill on Tuesday to add further restrictions to abortion pills by legally grouping them with schedule IV controlled substances like Xanax, Valium, Ambien and Rohypnol (commonly known as roofies), all of which can be highly addictive.

If passed by the full legislature, anyone possessing mifepristone (or misoprostol, which is the second pill used in a medication abortion) without a prescription in the state could be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to $5,000. That punishment could be added to Louisiana’s maximum 10-year prison sentence for violating the state’s near-total abortion ban.

Since before the fall of Roe, Republican lawmakers on the state level have taken up anti-abortion efforts pushed elsewhere. For example, after Texas successfully enacted a six-week ban enforced through civil lawsuits rather than the state, other states quickly followed.

Abortion pills, which account for most terminated pregnancies in the U.S., have posed a problem for abortion opponents. They’re accessible online, making it easier to thwart state-level bans, and the Louisiana bill might just offer a solution.

“The states are the true incubators of pro-life legislation,” said Kristi Hamrick, vice president of media and policy for Students for Life, another group that drafts model anti-abortion bills. “In regards to chemical abortion pills, now the number one means of abortion in America, if classifying it as a controlled substance plays out as a useful way to illustrate the dangers of these pills and to regulate and diminish the use of these pills, that’s a good thing. … It is a new effort, but it’s an interesting new thing to keep an eye on.”

When asked if the Louisiana controlled substances approach could be another instance that states could seek to replicate, Bopp said, “This looks pretty creative and ought to be looked into.”

Bopp said that by classifying abortion pills as controlled substances already regulated by the state, “it triggers a whole enforcement mechanism … that is well known and well used.” This makes it easier for state officials to enforce the law, rather than introducing them to a new legislation, he said.

The legislation also creates a new crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud,” with a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison. State Sen. Thomas Pressly, who did not respond to NOTUS’ interview requests, introduced the bill in March. He and Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that helped draft the bill, have said it was motivated in part by his sister alleging her then-husband secretly gave her abortion pills. (The woman, Catherine Herring, said her child was eventually born 10 weeks early.)

While the controlled substances portion was not part of the bill’s initial text, it was added as an amendment later on because “there’s got to be more that we can do than passing the straight bill as it was,” said Sarah Zagorski, Louisiana Right to Life’s communications director.

“It’s adding additional, you could say, motivators for someone to not be engaged in this kind of activity,” Zagorski added. “Essentially strengthens what already is in law.”

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The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone in 2000 to terminate pregnancies and, in 2021, the agency loosened restrictions on the pill allowing for it to be accessed via mail and removing in-person requirements. While major medical organizations have determined the medication to be safe and effective with rare complications, anti-abortion advocates insist they need to be more severely regulated.

Mark Lee Dickson, who helped pave the way for Texas’ lawsuit-enforced six-week ban and various city ordinance restrictions, said abortion pills are “dangerous” and hopes that state lawmakers are inspired by the Louisiana bill.

“Good laws deserve to be replicated in other places, and we need to make sure that we are putting forth the strongest laws possible,” Dickson told NOTUS.

The Louisiana bill is already setting off alarms in Congress.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, one of the states that has seen a high increase in abortion demand driven in part by out-of-state patients, said she expects the Louisiana controlled substance strategy will “spread across the country.” The sentiment was shared by some of her other Democratic colleagues.

“One state legislature starts to implement a way to further cripple a woman’s access to health care she may need, and another state picks it up and tries to figure out how to make it even more extreme,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told NOTUS. “These bad ideas spread like a virus.”

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.