With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an individual’s rights surrounding abortion, pharmacies may be left wondering how to proceed. Being aware of legislation that exists is a pertinent first step in guiding your pharmacy practice.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a statement which first acknowledges pharmacies’ importance to the healthcare system, in part due to the accessibility to patients. As such, the statement attempts to reinform retail pharmacies of their obligation to ensure patient access to comprehensive reproductive health care without discrimination, which includes potential, current, or past pregnancy, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The guidance reminds pharmacies that under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, entities that accept federal funding cannot discriminate when dispensing medications, determining medication appropriateness, and/or advising patients about medication usage. In addition to the guidance given, HHS OCR also brings attention to the high, yet preventable, maternal mortality rate in the United States and reaffirmed their dedication to improving maternal health via “vigorous enforcement of our civil right laws”.
Frustratingly, this guidance puts pharmacists between states that have moved to limit abortions and the federal government – who seems committed to protecting access, despite the Supreme Court ruling.
In tandem with the above-mentioned civil rights that patients possess, healthcare entity employees also possess civil rights that OCR enforces. The Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. §300a-7) protects health care employees’ personal beliefs from being a point of discrimination in relation to employment. For example, actions taken by a health care employee cannot be discriminated against if due to their “religious beliefs or moral convictions”. That said, OCR reserves the right to assess and apply the Church Amendments on a case-by-case basis. To learn more, reference HHS’s Guidance on Nondiscrimination Protections under the Church Amendment.