Pharmacies risk violating civil rights laws if they deny access to medications that can be used for abortion, HHS says

The Department of Health and Human Services warned U.S. retail pharmacies on Wednesday that they risk violating civil rights law if they deny access to drugs used in abortions under certain circumstances.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights said pharmacies cannot deny access to prescription drugs used for reproductive health care based on the customer’s gender, pregnancy status and other protected groups under the HHS Office for Civil Rights. federal discrimination laws.

This may include the prescription of the abortion pill, mifepristone used in combination with misoprostol, to help first trimester miscarriages. The drug can also be used to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, according to HHS guidelines released to 60,000 retail pharmacies nationwide.

HHS also said pharmacies risk violating civil rights law if they refuse to fill a prescription for methotrexate to stop ectopic pregnancies.

People who believe a pharmacy is discriminating against them can file a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights, a department official told reporters in a call Wednesday. Complaints will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the official said.

“The Department is committed to improving maternal health – including for people who experience miscarriage – and vigorous enforcement of our civil rights laws is one of the ways we plan to achieve this. “, HHS said in guidelines to the nation’s 60,000 retail pharmacies.

The Affordable Care Act prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, age and disability. Federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on current, past, or intended pregnancy as well as pregnancy-related medical conditions, according to HHS.

Drugs used to terminate pregnancies have become a flashpoint between the Biden administration and states that ban abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month, which protected the procedure. as a constitutional right for almost 50 years.

The FDA approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago as a safe and effective way to end a pregnancy before 10 weeks. In December, the FDA said it would permanently allow women to receive the pill in the mail from licensed healthcare providers.

But the states that banned abortion following the Supreme Court ruling also banned the administration of drugs that terminate pregnancies. Abortion bans generally provide exceptions for the procedure when the woman’s life is in danger.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will take enforcement action against states that ban mifepristone because they disagree with the FDA’s judgment that the drug is safe and effective. But most states that immediately banned the administration or prescription of abortion-inducing drugs after the Supreme Court ruling did so on the grounds that it terminates a pregnancy, not because of questions about the safety or effectiveness of the pill.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has called on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency in an effort to expand access to mifepristone. Over the weekend, the president said he has asked health officials in his administration to consider the impact the declaration of a public health emergency could have on abortion access. .

But Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, told reporters on Friday that the administration has concluded that declaring a public health emergency is not the best option to respond to states banning abortion. .

“When we looked at the public health emergency, we learned a few things. One is that it doesn’t free up a lot of resources. That’s what’s in the public health emergency fund, and there’s very little money – tens of thousands of dollars in it,” Klein said. “So that didn’t seem like a good option. And it also doesn’t release a significant amount of legal authority. And that’s why we didn’t take that step.”

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