By Ahmed Aboulenein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration said on Wednesday that refusing to fill prescriptions for drugs that could be used to terminate a pregnancy could violate federal law, regardless of various state bans on the procedure.
This "guidance" https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pharmacies-guidance.pdf, which involves roughly 60,000 U.S. retail pharmacies, comes days after President Joe Biden signed an executive order easing access to services to terminate pregnancies after the U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortions legal nationwide.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that pharmacies and pharmacists would run afoul of pregnancy and disability discrimination laws for refusing to disburse drugs that could be used to terminate a pregnancy, including those used for medication abortion and emergency contraceptives.
"We are committed to ensuring that everyone can access healthcare, free of discrimination," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "This includes access to prescription medications for reproductive health and other types of care."
The guidance does not reflect new policy, but merely reminds pharmacies of their existing obligations under federal law, the health department said.
Pharmacies for example cannot refuse to fill a prescription for mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in medication abortion, when prescribed to assist with the passing of a miscarriage, nor deny patients birth control, including emergency contraception, on grounds that it could terminate a pregnancy.
Other examples include misoprostol prescribed for ulcers, methotrexate prescribed for arthritis or an ectopic pregnancy, or antibiotics prescribed to treat a septic abortion.
On Sunday, Biden said he had asked his administration to consider whether he has authority to declare an abortion-related public health emergency.
The White House has been under pressure from Biden's own Democratic party to take further action after the Supreme Court decision.
Protecting abortion rights is a top issue for women Democrats, Reuters polling shows, and more than 70% of Americans think the issue should be left to a woman and her doctor.
On Wednesday, 83 Democratic lawmakers called on Biden and Becerra in a letter to declare a public health emergency.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Bill Berkrot)