Some women say they’re having trouble getting prescriptions filled because of Georgia abortion law
ATLANTA (WGCL/Gray News) - Some Georgian residents are having trouble picking up medication that’s been prescribed to them by licensed doctors. It’s a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, and is complicating access to essential drugs.
Atlanta resident Cindi Gatton takes Misoprostol to prevent stomach ulcers, which can be caused by the long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed for her arthritis.
“After my second ulcer, I had asked my primary care doctor if he would be comfortable prescribing this drug,” Gatton said. “He did, and and I’ve taken it daily pretty much ever since.”
Gatton never had a problem filling her prescription at her Publix pharmacy in Decatur until a few weeks ago.
“The pharmacy tech said we have to get additional information from your doctor,” Gatton said, “And that’s when he told me we need the doctor to tell us the diagnosis that they’re prescribing for.”
In addition to preventing stomach ulcers, Misoprostol can also be used to complete miscarriages or induce abortions.
Because of Georgia’s controversial “heartbeat bill,” most abortions are now banned in the state at roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Gatton, however, said she’s past child-bearing age, and even if she wasn’t, she believes her privacy has been invaded.
“If a licensed physician writes a prescription, a pharmacy can and should fill it,” she said. “That’s the obligation of the pharmacist.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi’s abortion law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks. That decision, announced June 24, essentially overturns Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark 1973 ruling which ruled a pregnant woman has the right to choose to an abortion without excessive government restriction.
Now it seems pharmacists, who have liability for the prescriptions they fill, are scrambling.
According to patient advocacy groups like the Global Healthy Living Foundation, dozens of women are also having problems getting Methotrexate - another drug which treats arthritis but can also be used to end a pregnancy - at pharmacies.
Zoe Rothblatt with the Global Healthy Living Foundation said, “Many of our members – only women -- have been asked to validate their diagnosis, particularly in states with anti-abortion trigger laws, despite having prescriptions written by their health care providers. Our members are fearful that they won’t be able to get their medications, and even a small delay can cause harm.”
Some Atlanta OB/GYN’s believe Georgia’s abortion law will delay patients from seeking care. “So we are, under this law, unable to take care of those patients, and that’s really egregious,” Dr. Megan Cohen explained.
At a recent panel sponsored by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Cohen talked about the restrictions Georgia’s abortion ban could create for women experiencing miscarriages.
“The medications we use to treat a miscarriage are exactly the same that we use for a medication abortion, so not only is it going to delay people from coming in, but it’s also going to restrict our ability to treat people who are in the midst of a miscarriage,” she added.
“We’re going to see communities that are already disenfranchised and already having issues with access to care having more issues and that gap becoming wider with these restrictions,” Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks said. “We’re going to see poorer health outcomes for mothers and for babies.”
“It’s unfortunate that it’s being misunderstood in such a way as to scare women,” said Sue Liebel, state policy director at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Anti-abortion activists like Liebel said they disagree, and said doctors should not be worried about prescribing these medications as long as they’re not doing so to induce an abortion.
“This is not intended to impact drugs that are used for other purposes. This is intended to impact drugs that are used to cause an abortion,” Liebel added.
But Gatton said she believes doctors’ and patients’ concerns are valid, and she said she doesn’t like experiencing politics at the pharmacy.
“This just seems like a burden on an important part of the health care system that is unnecessary,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently reminded pharmacists they must follow federal civil rights laws when they dispense medication. Refusing to fill a prescription because of its potential to end a pregnancy could violate anti-sex discrimination laws.
CBS46 Investigates sent four emails to Publix asking about new policies following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. All four went unanswered.
Meanwhile, Walgreens and CVS both responded to questions about their policies.
Pharmacists are “caught in the middle on this issue,” said Amy Thibault, CVS Pharmacy spokesperson
“Our highest priority is ensuring safe and timely access to medications for our patients, and we’re committed to supporting women’s health care,” said Amy Thibault, CVS Pharmacy spokesperson.
But laws in some states restrict the dispensing of medications for the purpose of inducing an abortion, she said.
“These laws, some of which include criminal penalties, have forced us to require pharmacists in these states – which does NOT include Georgia – to validate that the intended indication is not to terminate a pregnancy before they can fill a prescription for Methotrexate or Misoprostol,” Thibault said.
She said they encourage providers to include the diagnosis on the prescriptions they write.
Fraser Engerman, a Walgreens spokesperson, blamed “trigger laws in various states,” for the extra steps pharmacies take. “In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers as needed, to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions.”
Walgreens pharmacists are being providing training and information to keep them up-to-date with the latest requirements, Engerman said.
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