HHS warns pharmacies against refusing to provide abortion pills

by Chris Lange

 Chris Lange, FISM News


The Biden administration’s Health and Human Services is warning pharmacies that refuse to fill abortion pill prescriptions that they may be violating federal law.

The HHS on Wednesday sent new guidance out to approximately 60,000 U.S. pharmacies “reminding them of their obligations under federal civil rights laws” to fulfill prescriptions for abortion pills, according to a press release.

“We are committed to ensuring that everyone can access health care, free of discrimination,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “This includes access to prescription medications for reproductive health and other types of care.”

The HHS guidance makes specific reference to misoprostol, a drug commonly used to treat severe stomach ulcer complications that is also sometimes prescribed to patients experiencing early pregnancy loss “to assist with the passing of the miscarriage.”

The guidance indicates that if a pharmacist refuses to fill a misoprostol prescription because it can be used to terminate a pregnancy, it “may be discriminating on the basis of sex.” Moreover, pharmacists could “be discriminating on the basis of disability” for refusing to stock the drug since it is prescribed to patients with ulcers.

Pharmacists who receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are prohibited under federal nondiscrimination law from discriminating based on sex when supplying prescribed medications or making determinations regarding the suitability of those medications for patients, the HSS guidance stated.

The department specifically cited federal civil rights law under Title IX that prohibits “pregnancy discrimination.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for protecting the rights of women and pregnant people in their ability to access care that is free from discrimination,” the guidance reads. 

In addition to the term “pregnant people,” the HHS also refers to pregnancy as the “growing of cells.”

The guidance also includes the steps the Biden administration has taken to protect abortion access following the repeal of Roe v. Wade, including the launch of ReproductiveRights.gov and the announcement of $3 million in new funding to train “family planning providers.”

The HHS issued a letter to healthcare providers Monday asserting that federal law supersedes state abortion bans.

The new guidance follows an announcement by the Department of Justice on Tuesday that it created an abortion task force to monitor state and local actions on abortion under the direction of the DOJ’s No. 2 official, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

The task force will pursue legal action against state and local governments that infringe on federal abortion protections or impose civil or criminal penalties on federal employees that help facilitate abortions. It will also sue states that ban abortion-inducing medications like misoprostol or the Plan B emergency contraceptive, often referred to as the “morning after pill.”

This is a response to the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Gupta pointed out.

“The Court abandoned 50 years of precedent and took away the constitutional right to abortion, preventing women all over the country from being able to make critical decisions about our bodies, our health, and our futures,” Gupta said. “The Justice Department is committed to protecting access to reproductive services.”