To Win, They Have to Lie: Why Louisiana Is Reclassifying Safe Abortion Pills as Dangerous Controlled Substances

Anti-abortion extremists do not want to admit that they oppose abortion pills only because they cause abortion. They want some sort of less-ideological pretext … so they lie.

Demonstrators gather in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of the FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine on March 26, 2024. The case challenges the 20-plus-year legal authorization by the FDA of mifepristone, a commonly used abortion medication. (Anna Rose Layden / Getty Images)

This story originally appeared on, a newsletter from journalist, lawyer and author Jill Filipovic.

The Republican-dominated Louisiana state government is on the verge of reclassifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two abortion-inducing medications, as Schedule IV drugs—a categorization reserved for drugs they may cause addiction or abuse. Abortion pills are a lot of things—highly effective, often life-saving, and of course controversial — but they are not addictive, nor prone to being abused. No one is taking recreational abortion drugs. No one is addicted to abortion pills.

But Louisiana wants to further criminalize abortion and further terrorize women.

If risk to the patients were the metric by which these groups judged the relative danger of various drugs and procedures, they’d oppose childbirth and Viagra well before abortion pills.

Abortion is already broadly outlawed in Louisiana, but women who have abortions are not criminally punished; penalties are reserved for those who help women have abortions. This was not guaranteed: Just two years ago, a “pro-life” Louisiana lawmaker introduced legislation that would have tried women who have abortions for murder. The same legislator has also tried to criminalize IVF and contraception in the state. The bills failed because criminalizing women for abortion is broadly unpopular, even among many people who say abortion is murder (no, it doesn’t make sense), and the leaders of the anti-abortion are at least smart enough to know that pushing this particular issue too far may make them lose even more support.

So they look for workarounds. And one of those workarounds is targeting abortion pills for criminalization—and lying about what those pills do in order to make that happen.

The truth is that abortion pills are overwhelmingly safe. Abortion opponents don’t like abortion pills because abortion pills cause abortions, not because abortion pills are dangerous. If risk to the patients were the metric by which these groups judged the relative danger of various drugs and procedures, they’d oppose childbirth and Viagra well before abortion pills.

But these groups do not want to admit that they oppose abortion pills only because abortion pills cause abortion. They want some sort of less-ideological pretext. “Safety” is what they’ve latched onto. And they realize that reality doesn’t really matter; the facts, studies, and statistics about these pills isn’t the point. As long as they proclaim abortion pills to be dangerous often enough and loud enough, they believe they’ll succeed.

That’s certainly the case in Louisiana, where, if this bill passes, merely possessing abortion pills without a prescription could get you sent to prison for five years.

No one is taking recreational abortion drugs. No one is addicted to abortion pills.

Misopristol and mifepristone have a variety of other uses, and misoprostol specifically has been widely life-saving — it can be used in childbirth to ripen the cervix and to address postpartum hemorrhage, as well as to treat a miscarriage and prevent potentially dangerous complications and infections. Under the Louisiana bill, these uses wouldn’t be criminalized, but the reclassification of the drug as a Schedule IV controlled substance could make it much harder to use in an emergency situation—and misoprostol does sometimes have to be used in acute emergencies.

So this is dangerous, just like any other abortion ban. But it’s also just a flat-out lie. These drugs are not addictive. They are not prone to abuse. No bad teen is sneaking his mom’s miso from the medicine cabinet to go get high at a party. They are part of an extremely common healthcare protocol that a minority of Americans deeply dislike and want to see outlawed. And it is, as they say, a free country—abortion opponents have a right to their opinion, and to vote for officials who reflect that opinion.

But “abortion is wrong” is an opinion. “Abortion pills are dangerous” is a false statement. The fact is that abortion pills are statistically extremely safe. That fact is inconvenient for people who want abortion pills banned—it is easier to make the case for banning a medication if that medication is dangerous—but if we were dealing with honest actors here, they could simply say, “Sure, this is safe for the pregnant women who take these pills, but these pills are by definition not safe for an embryo or a fetus because end a pregnancy and I think that’s morally wrong.” But then they’d actually have to debate the real issue, which is opposition to abortion that goes beyond a personal objection and into a desire to ban abortion for everyone. And most Americans, no matter how they feel about abortion itself, don’t actually want to criminalize the procedure for everyone.

Abortion opponents, in other words, know they will lose on the merits if they’re honest. And so they lie. Which is exactly how we get bills that suggest abortion pills are addictive, and threaten to jail women who haven’t had abortions, but who simply possess extremely safe and common medicines.

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Jill Filipovic is a New York-based writer, lawyer and author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind and The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. A weekly columnist for CNN and a 2019 New America Future of War fellow, she is also a former contributing opinion writer to The New York Times and a former columnist for The Guardian. She writes at and holds writing workshops and retreats around the world.