Louisiana lawmakers consider more restrictions for abortion pill

Senate committee votes in favor of new penalties for distribution

By: - April 12, 2022 8:26 pm

Protestors in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender/States Newsroom)

The Louisiana Legislature is likely to pass further restrictions this year on medication-induced abortion, which allow people to terminate a pregnancy through pills rather than surgery.

Senate Bill 388, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, is part of a national anti-abortion push to prohibit medical staff from prescribing abortion pills online or over the phone and then sending the pills through the mail. The bill would also expands the circumstances under which providing an abortion would be considered a crime in Louisiana.

The Senate Judiciary C Committee voted 3-1 Tuesday for the legislation, with Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, in opposition. Most state lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards are against abortion, meaning abortion restrictions typically face little opposition before they become Louisiana state law.

Hewitt’s legislation requires that a pregnant person seeking a medication-induced abortion see a Louisiana-based physician for an in-person visit and take the abortion pills in front of the doctor.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes those measures are unnecessary. In December, the agency approved the distribution of abortion medication without an in-person medical appointment and via mail

In her legislation, Hewitt also increases penalties for performing a “criminal abortion” – defined as one without consent from the pregnant person or their legal guardian – in the case of serious injury or death of a pregnant person. Fines could range from $5,000 to $100,000, and prison time could span from five to 50 years upon conviction.

Abortion rights advocates have raised concerns Hewitt’s bill might could lead to criminal consequences for people seeking abortions or those who 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 who advises abortion clinics in the state. 

Hewitt responded by saying that she would make adjustments to the legislation before it came up for a vote in the full Senate to protect people who are pregnant.

“It is not our intention to punish a pregnant woman in any way,” she said. 

More than half of U.S. abortions last year occurred through pills, rather than surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. As the pills have surged in popularity, anti-abortion lawmakers have also pivoted to focus on medication abortion restrictions.

Sixteen states have already put limitations on medication abortions in place this year, according to the Associated Press. Providers are prohibited from mailing abortion pills to three states already: Arizona, Arkansas and Texas.

An abortion via medication involves two pills. A person takes mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed for pregnancy to continue, according to the AP. Then one or two days later, the person takes misoprostol, which causes cramping that empties the womb.

Last year, the Legislature voted to require medical professionals to tell people who use abortion pills that a pregnancy might still be viable if only the first of the two pills is taken. The governor backed the proposal, although there is no scientific evidence to support that assertion.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.