Jul 13, 2022 - Health

Pharmacies can't deny medication that terminates pregnancy, HHS warns

Picture of Xavier Becerra
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued guidance to around 60,000 pharmacies telling them they can't stop patients from accessing prescribed medication, and that such an action would be considered discrimination.

Why it matters: Some patients, particularly in states that have banned or restricted abortions, have been denied access to specific medication like cancer treatments because they can terminate a pregnancy.

Driving the news: There have been reports of pharmacists denying patients their prescriptions in fear of being prosecuted under state laws that restrict abortion access.

  • These prescriptions include heartburn medication, methotrexate (which is used to treat certain types of cancer) and medication used to make an IUD insertion less painful.

The Department of Health and Human Services has gotten requests from patients who claim their civil rights have been violated, a senior DHS official said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Details: The Affordable Care Act holds that recipients of federal funding cannot exclude people from their "programs and activities" based on their race, nationality, age, sex and disability.

  • "Under federal civil rights law, pregnancy discrimination includes discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential or intended pregnancy, and medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth," an HHS press release reads.

State of play: The senior HHS official said federal law supersedes state law, and the department will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether laws conflict with one another.

What they're saying: "We are committed to ensuring that everyone can access health care, free of discrimination,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the statement. “This includes access to prescription medications for reproductive health and other types of care.”

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