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Louisiana set to reclassify abortion pills as controlled, dangerous substances − here’s what that means

Jamie Rowen, UMass Amherst and Tami S. Rowen, University of California, San Francisco, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Louisiana’s Legislature approved a bill on May 23, 2024, that would reclassify two abortion pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, as “controlled, dangerous substances.” Both pills have a long history of safe and effective use in medication abortions as well as for treatment of miscarriages and other conditions. The bill, which is expected to be signed into law by the state’s governor, makes it illegal to possess either of the pills without a prescription. Surgical and medication abortions are already banned in Louisiana, with few exceptions.

The Conversation U.S. asked twin sisters Jamie Rowen, a legal scholar, and Tami Rowen, an obstetrician and gynecologist, to explain the new law’s implications – both for patients and providers.

Mifepristone and misoprostol have long been classified as noncontrolled substances. Though a prescription is required in order to obtain them, there have been no criminal consequences for possessing these medications.

Louisiana’s new bill, once signed, would reclassify the pills as Schedule 4 drugs, which includes medications such as diazepam, more commonly known as valium, and tramadol, a commonly used opioid.

In the U.S., prescription medications are divided into two categories: not controlled and controlled. These are based on the drug’s likelihood for mental and physical addiction. Louisiana just moved the two medications from not controlled to controlled.

Access to medication abortion already requires a prescription everywhere in the U.S. So people seeking abortions will still need to get a prescription to obtain the pills under Louisiana’s new law, just as before.

 

What this law primarily does is make it a crime for people who are not seeking abortions to possess the pills. In Louisiana, it is against the law to provide a medical or surgical abortion absent the threat of a woman’s death or “substantial and irreversible bodily impairment.” Louisiana residents seeking medication abortion must get the pills from out of state. Under this new law, if someone without a valid prescription transports or stores mifepristone or misoprostol in Louisiana, they may face a penalty of between one and five years in prison and up to US$5,000 in fines.

Controlled substances are further categorized by schedules. Under federal law, schedule designations are determined by a drug’s potential for abuse, its risk to public health and a few other factors.

Under Louisiana state law, there are five schedules that follow similar categorizations as federal law. A Schedule 4 classification means that the drug or other substance has a low potential for abuse, has a currently accepted medical use, and that abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence.

By classifying mifepristone and misoprostol as a controlled Schedule 4 drug, the legislature is asserting without evidence that there are dependence and abuse risks associated with taking the medication.

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