Pharmacists warn they could break the law if they refuse abortion-related drugs : Shots

Mifepristone (Mifeprex) and Misoprostol, the two drugs used in drug abortion, may also be prescribed for other medical uses. However, some pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for them.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

hide caption

swap caption

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images


Mifepristone (Mifeprex) and Misoprostol, the two drugs used in drug abortion, may also be prescribed for other medical uses. However, some pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for them.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Federal health officials on Wednesday reminded U.S. pharmacies that they must comply with federal civil rights laws in the decisions they make about the supply and dispensing of drugs. This comes in the wake of multiple news reports of pharmacists refusing to fill some prescriptions for drugs used for abortion after the Supreme Court’s ruling Roe v. Wade

The directive clarifies that pharmacists must not discriminate against pharmacy customers “with respect to dispensing medicines; making decisions about the suitability of a prescribed medicine for a patient; or advising patients about medicines and how to take them,” according to a statement. press release from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to health care, free of discrimination,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in the release. “This includes access to prescription drugs for reproductive health and other forms of care.”

The pharmacy guidelines say an example of such discrimination would be if a pharmacist refused to dispense prescriptions for mifepristone and misoprostol to a patient who had a miscarriage in the first trimester. These drugs are used “to help pass the miscarriage,” according to HHS. But they are also used for drug abortions early in pregnancy — and such abortions are now banned in some states.

The Department focused its guidelines on the approximately 60,000 pharmacies in the US, reminding them that because they receive federal funding through various programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, they cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, and physical disability ; further, they must not discriminate on the basis of current pregnancy, previous pregnancy, possible or intended pregnancy, and medical conditions associated with pregnancy or childbirth.

Misoprostol is also used for peptic ulcers, so if the pharmacy refuses to stock that drug or dispense it to a patient with severe or chronic peptic ulcers, that could constitute disability discrimination, according to the guidelines.

Another example in the guidance was on contraception: if a pharmacy stocks contraceptives such as condoms, but refuses to dispense hormonal forms of contraception such as the pill, it can be a matter of gender discrimination.

HHS officials distributed to reporters a compilation of news stories about pharmacists refusing to fill doctor’s prescriptions in states that have restricted abortion following the June 24 Supreme Court ruling, such as Louisiana, as well as states where abortion is still legal, such as Virginia. .

A doctor quoted in the New Orleans Times-Picayune said she prescribed Cytotec (the brand name for misoprostol) to make inserting an IUD easier. The pharmacy called her to ask if the prescription was for an abortion. Even after she clarified it, it still refused to dispense the drug.

HHS also shared news stories of pharmacies refusing to dispense methotrexate, a drug commonly used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

Methotrexate can also be used to terminate ectopic pregnancies, which can be fatal. Reports in the LA Times and other outlets, with patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus who were refused or had difficulty getting refills on their methotrexate prescriptions.

Senior health officials declined to comment on those specific news reports or cases on Wednesday, but said the aim of the guidance was to provide clarity and support to pharmacists in their work. An official said the guidelines made it clear that federal legal obligations should come first if there is a conflict with state laws. But she added that if there was a specific conflict with state law, that should at least be investigated.

Patients who believe they have been discriminated against at a pharmacy are encouraged to file a complaint at www.hhs.gov/ocr/complaints.