Louisiana is set to make possessing abortion pills without a prescription punishable by up to 10 years in prison

Louisiana lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation making the possession of abortion pills without a prescription a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

It now heads to the desk of GOP Gov. Jeff Landry, who has not publicly weighed in on the legislation but is expected to sign it.

The first-in-the-nation legislation could be a model for other red states grappling with how to stop their residents from traveling out of state to get abortion pills or ordering them online despite their abortion bans. But people who obtain those pills don’t always have prescriptions for them, particularly if they are mailed from overseas.

Under the Louisiana bill, pregnant women who obtain the medication for their own use would be exempt from criminal liability. But friends or family who help them get the pills and non-pregnant women who obtain them as a precaution could face criminal penalties for possession.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy group, found that the number of abortions performed annually rose in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade. More than 1 million abortions were performed across the U.S. in 2023, the last year for which reliable data is available. That represents an 11 percent increase since 2020, and nearly two-thirds were medication abortions.

Abortion is illegal in Louisiana except to save the life of the mother and in cases of lethal fetal anomaly.

President Joe Biden’s campaign seized on the legislation this week as an example of the “chaos” wrought by the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade nearly two years ago.

Under the legislation, doctors would need a special license to prescribe the drugs, and prescriptions would be cataloged in a state database, accessible to doctors, pharmacists, Louisiana’s medical board and law enforcement agencies with a warrant. Doctors fear that it could lead to more monitoring and second-guessing of their decisions to prescribe the drugs, especially in emergency situations.

Ellie Schilling, a Louisiana attorney who specializes in reproductive health law, told reporters Wednesday that the state is effectively establishing a database to monitor women’s pregnancies.

“That should be unimaginable in America,” Schilling said.

GOP state Sen. Thomas Pressly introduced the legislation after his sister’s husband tried to end her pregnancy by spiking her drinks with abortion pills. The husband was recently sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to injuring a child and the assault of a pregnant person.

Pressly’s original bill, which had unanimous support, proposed creating a crime of “coerced criminal abortion” for anyone who administers abortion pills to someone to terminate a pregnancy without consent. But his decision to amend the controlled substances provision into the bill late last month to “control the rampant illegal distribution of abortion-inducing drugs” sparked swift backlash from doctors and abortion-rights advocates.

More than 200 doctors in Louisiana, in a letter to Pressly, said the legislation would result in “fear and confusion among patients, doctors, and pharmacists” that would delay care and worsen outcomes.

While mifepristone is used only to terminate pregnancies, misoprostol is also used to treat miscarriages, prepare patients for endometrial biopsy and ease IUD insertion.

“Mischaracterizing misoprostol, a drug routinely and safely used on labor units throughout the state, as a dangerous drug of abuse, creates confusion and misinformation and harms women seeking high quality maternal care,” the letter said. “Setting this precedent is a threat to the safe and autonomous practice of medicine in Louisiana and will have a chilling effect on patients and providers.”

Anti-abortion advocates, including Pressly, have argued that the legislation would still allow doctors to dispense the two medications for lawful reasons.

Sarah Zagorski, spokesperson for Louisiana Right to Life, on Thursday lauded Pressly for spearheading the bill, which she said would “stop the abortion industry from profiting off of abuse and trafficking of vulnerable women through their flagrantly illegal distribution of pills."