ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – Some Georgians are struggling to take medications prescribed to them by licensed physicians. This is an unintended result of the United States Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, and complicates access to essential medicines.
Atlanta resident Cindi Gatton takes misoprostol to prevent stomach ulcers, which can be caused by long-term use of anti-inflammatories, which she also takes for her arthritis.
“After my second ulcer, I had asked my GP if he would be comfortable prescribing this medication,” Gatton said. “He did, and I’ve been taking it almost every day since.”
Gatton never had a problem filling his prescription at his Publix pharmacy in Decatur, until a few weeks ago.
“The pharmacy tech said we needed to get some more information from your doctor,” Gatton said, “and that’s when he told me we needed the doctor to tell us the diagnosis for which they prescribe.”
In addition to preventing stomach ulcers, misoprostol can also be used to supplement miscarriages or induce abortions.
Due to Georgia’s controversial heartbeat bill, most abortions are now banned in the state at around six weeks of pregnancy. Gatton, however, said she was past childbearing age, and even though 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. “It is the obligation of the pharmacist.”
Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi’s abortion law that bars the procedure after 15 weeks. The decision, announced June 24, essentially reverses Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that ruled that a pregnant woman has the right to choose an abortion without undue government restriction.
Now it seems the pharmacists, who are responsible for the prescriptions they fill, are scrambling.
According to patient advocacy groups like the Global Healthy Living Foundation, dozens of women are also having trouble getting methotrexate – another drug that treats arthritis but can also be used to end a pregnancy – from pharmacies. .
Zoe Rothblatt of the Global Healthy Living Foundation tells us, “Many of our members – all women – have been asked to validate their diagnosis, especially in states with anti-abortion laws, despite having prescriptions written by their health care providers. Our members fear that they will not be able to get their medications and even a small delay can harm them.
CBS46 Investigates sent four emails to Publix asking for new policies following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. All four went unanswered.
Meanwhile Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens, said: “Trigger laws in various states require additional steps for issuing certain prescriptions and apply to all pharmacies, including Walgreens. In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers, as needed, to fill legal and clinically appropriate prescriptions. We provide ongoing education and information to help our pharmacists understand the latest requirements in their field, and with these supports, they are expected to be empowered to fill legal and clinically appropriate prescriptions..”
Amy Thibault, CVS Pharmacy spokesperson, said: “Our top priority is to ensure safe and timely access to medicines for our patients and we are committed to supporting women’s healthcare. At the same time, some state laws restrict the distribution of drugs for the purpose of inducing an abortion. These laws, some of which provide criminal penalties, have required us to require pharmacists in these states – which do 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. Pharmacists are caught in the crossfire on this issue. We will continue to focus on providing care to our patients while complying with state laws and federal guidelines that continue to evolve. To ensure patients have quick and easy access to medications, we encourage providers to include their diagnosis on the prescriptions they write..”
Some Atlanta obstetricians/gynecologists believe Georgia’s abortion law will delay patients seeking care. “So we are, under this law, unable to care for these patients, and that’s really egregious,” said Dr. Megan Cohen.
At a recent panel sponsored by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Dr. Cohen spoke about the restrictions Georgia’s abortion ban could create for women who experience miscarriages.
“The drugs we use to treat a miscarriage are exactly the same as those we use for a medical abortion, so not only is this going to delay people coming in, but it’s also going to restrict our ability to treat people who are in the midst of a miscarriage,” she added.
Atlanta OB/GYN Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks believes women of color will be disproportionately affected.
“We’re going to see communities that are already disenfranchised and already have problems accessing care with more problems and this gap widening, with these restrictions,” Dr Hailstorks said. “We’re going to see worse health outcomes for mothers and babies.”
“It’s unfortunate that it’s misunderstood in a way that scares women away,” said Sue Liebel, director of state policy at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Anti-abortion campaigners like Sue Liebel disagree and say doctors shouldn’t worry about prescribing these drugs as long as they don’t cause an abortion.
“It is not intended to impact drugs that are used for other purposes. It is intended to impact drugs used to induce abortion,” Liebel added.
But Gatton thinks the concerns of doctors and patients are valid, and she doesn’t like to play politics at the pharmacy.
“It seems like an unnecessary burden on a significant part of the healthcare system,” she said.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recently reminded pharmacists that they must follow federal civil rights laws when dispensing medications. Refusing to fill a prescription because of its potential to end a pregnancy could violate sex discrimination laws.
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