A bill to ban women in Louisiana from receiving medication needed for a medical abortion in the mail passed Friday.
Republican Senator Slidell Sharon Hewitt’s Senate Bill 388 would make it illegal for companies to supply the two drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail with criminal penalties as consequences.
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Hewitt stressed that the criminal penalties would not apply to the women ordering or taking the drugs, only to the companies shipping them. The bill does not prohibit emergency contraceptives such as the so-called morning after pill.
Louisiana law already requires that abortion drugs be dispensed and taken only in the physical presence of a physician, but Hewitt said the current law “isn’t clear enough.”
Hewitt and his supporters said his bill is designed to protect pregnant women from “unsupervised mail-order and do-it-yourself chemical abortions.”
Medications now account for 54% of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute for pro-abortion rights.
“We are targeting manufacturers and distributors who take advantage of women,” Hewitt said, saying the bill “will close a loophole.”
During a committee hearing, Angie Thomas of the anti-abortion advocacy organization Louisiana Right to Life said that during her own research, she was able to order and receive both drugs in the mail. within days of ordering them online without any consultation or questions from the supplier.
Louisiana is considered one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to abortion rights.
Opponents of Hewitt’s bill said they believed his legislation adding more restrictions would make abortion less safe, and expressed concern that women would become targets of prosecution for seeking and aborting.
New Orleans abortion rights lawyer Ellie Schilling said the bill “criminalizes medical care provided by out-of-state providers.”
A non-surgical medical abortion involves swallowing mifepristone, which causes an embryo to detach from the uterine wall. A second pill, misoprostol, is used two days later to induce contractions and push the embryo out of the uterus.
The use of abortion drugs has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2000.
Hewitt’s bill now goes to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk and will become law Aug. 1 unless he vetoes the legislation.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Louisiana Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1