New HHS guidance warns pharmacists of possible federal violations regarding abortion medication

The HHS guidance comes after President Biden's executive action on abortion access

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights issued new guidance Wednesday, warning US pharmacists that dispensing medications used in abortions could constitute a federal violation. 

"We are committed to ensuring that everyone can access health care, free of discrimination," said Secretary Xavier Becerra in a press release. "This includes access to prescription medications for reproductive health and other types of care."

FILE: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks June 28, 2022, in Washington.

FILE: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks June 28, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The new guidance was issued to approximately 60,000 pharmacies across the US, "reminding them of their obligations under federal civil rights laws," according to the release. The guidance is in conjunction with President Joe Biden's executive action on abortion access issued July 8, following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade.

"Discrimination against pregnant people on the basis of their pregnancy or related conditions is a form of sex discrimination. Such discrimination can have significant health consequences from denial of medication or treatment which can have negative health impacts on a patient. 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," the guidance read. 

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The HHS specifically used an example of an early pregnancy loss wherein the patient is prescribed medication "to assist with the passing of the miscarriage." The guidance read that if a pharmacist refuses the fill the patient's prescription because those same medications can be used to terminate a pregnancy, the pharmacy could be discriminating on the basis of sex.  

A pharmacy that refuses to fill a prescription of misoprostol prescribed to help deal with severe stomach ulcer complications may be discriminating based on disability, HHS said. The agency noted that the pharmacy also may be discriminating if it refuses to stock the drug based on its alternate use.

HHS also cited as another example of potential discrimination: a pharmacy that refuses to fill a prescription for methotrexate to halt an ectopic pregnancy, which grows outside the womb and is not viable.

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 16:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building.

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 16:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"President Biden’s radical order turns the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services into the marketing arm of the profit-driven abortion industry. By promoting dangerous mail-order abortion drugs without any restrictions or oversight, the Biden administration is complicit in endangering the lives of countless women and girls as well as their unborn children," Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser told Fox News Digital in a statement. 

Biden's Executive Order Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services specifically asks the HHS to enforce actions that will protect access to reproductive products and services, "including access to medication that the FDA approved as safe and effective", according to a White House press release

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Planned Parenthood released a statement following the Executive Order announcement, urging officials to fight for abortion following the Dobbs decision. 

"Planned Parenthood is encouraged the administration is reaffirming its commitment to abortion access and looks forward to working toward implementation of these and other strategies to address this crisis," Jacqueline Ayers, Senior Vice President of Policy, Organizing and Campaigns at Planned Parenthood said in a statement. 

Fox News reached out to Planned Parenthood and NARAL for comment but did not immediately hear back. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.