Louisiana Labels Abortion Drugs as Controlled Substances

Louisiana prohibits providing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with very limited exceptions. The statute bans doctors not only from performing procedures but also from prescribing drugs with the intent to cause an abortion. Last week, the state went even further. Governor Jeff Landry signed a bill that will add two abortion drugs to Schedule IV in the state list of controlled dangerous substances.

Mifepristone and misoprostol can end a pregnancy without surgical intervention. The process starts when a patient takes mifepristone to block progesterone, a hormone needed to continue a pregnancy. About 24-48 hours later, the patient takes misoprostol to cause contractions in the uterus, helping to empty its contents. A pregnant woman can use this two-drug combination within 70 days after the start of their last period. Some data have indicated that it successfully achieves an abortion in all but four of every 1,000 cases.

Louisiana will become the first state to treat mifepristone and misoprostol as controlled substances. The law makes it a felony to possess the drugs without a valid prescription or order from a physician. A conviction could result in 1-5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Distributing the drugs, or possessing them with the intent to distribute them, could result in up to 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. However, the law exempts a pregnant woman who possesses mifepristone or misoprostol for her own consumption.

Hundreds of healthcare providers have objected to the new law. They have pointed out that the drugs do not have a risk for abuse or dependence, or even a high rate of adverse side effects. Mifepristone and misoprostol also can serve purposes other than causing an abortion. For example, they can respond to a miscarriage or prevent gastrointestinal ulcers. Many physicians fear that classifying the drugs as Schedule IV substances could affect perceptions of their safety.

Critics also have warned that placing the drugs in Schedule IV could impede legitimate access. Only doctors with a certain license can prescribe Schedule IV substances, which also need to be stored in certain facilities. This could cause delays in getting mifepristone and misoprostol, especially in rural areas.

Another provision in the law has sparked no debate. This prohibits using an abortion drug on a pregnant woman without her knowledge or consent. A conviction can result in imprisonment at hard labor for 5-10 years and a fine between $10,000 and $75,000. Penalties increase if the unborn child has reached three months of gestational age.

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