Louisiana Legislatures Consider Further Criminalizing Abortion Pill

Protesters demonstrate in the Louisiana State Capitol Building to oppose restrictions on reproductive healthcare. Photo Credit: New Orleans Abortion Fund

The Louisiana Legislature is set to consider a bill that would further criminalize medication-induced abortions this year.

SB 388, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), would prevent doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from using online and phone services to prescribe abortion pills and having them shipped to the patient through the mail. In addition, the bill further criminalizes abortion by expanding the circumstances in which abortion is illegal in Louisiana.

Under the bill, any pregnant person seeking a medication-induced abortion would be required to see a Lousiana-based doctor in person, and take those pills in front of the doctor. This is in direct contradiction to the FDA, which approved the distribution of abortion medication without those measures in December 2021.

The bill expands on Act 483, a measure approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor last year. That legislation requires medical professionals to tell people seeking a medication abortion that the pregnancy may still be viable if only the first of the two pills is taken, even though there is no verified scientific evidence to support those statements.

Under that law, the following message is attached to the abortion medication or the bag the medication is distributed in:

“Research has indicated that the first pill provided, identified as mifepristone, is not always effective in ending a pregnancy. If after taking the first pill you regret your decision, please consult a physician or health care provider immediately to determine if there are options available to assist you in continuing your pregnancy.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that assertion is “not based on science.”

SB 388 also expands penalties for what is known as a “criminal abortion” – an abortion performed without consent from the pregnant person or their legal guardian, in the case of serious injury or death of a pregnant person. Fines would now range from $5,000 to $100,000 and prison time would range from five to 50 years upon conviction.

However, some abortion-rights activists fear that the current wording of the bill would allow criminal prosecution of people who are seeking or who have had abortions.

“The effect of this bill is it explicitly allows for criminal prosecution of a pregnant person,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney. Hewitt has responded by saying that she will make changes to the legislation before it comes up for a vote in the full Senate.

In a state where even many Democrats – including Gov. John Bel Edwards – are against abortion, the bill is likely to pass without much opposition. On Tuesday, it was approved 3-1 by the Senate Judiciary C Committee with only Sen. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) voting in opposition.

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