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Politics at the pharmacy | Georgia’s new abortion law affecting patients, doctors

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – Some Georgians are having trouble picking up medication that’s been prescribed to them by licensed doctors. It’s an unintended 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, which she also takes 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 tells us, “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 Georgians are having trouble picking up medication that’s been prescribed to them by...
Some Georgians are having trouble picking up medication that’s been prescribed to them by licensed doctors. It’s an unintended result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, and is complicating access to essential drugs.(Rachel Polansky)

CBS46 Investigates sent four emails to Publix asking about new policies following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. All four went unanswered.

Meanwhile, Fraser Engerman, a spokesperson for Walgreens, said, “Trigger laws in various states require additional steps for dispensing certain prescriptions and apply to all pharmacies, including Walgreens. In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers as needed, to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions. We provide ongoing training and information to help our pharmacists understand the latest requirements in their area, and with these supports, the expectation is they are empowered to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions.”

Amy Thibault, a spokesperson for CVS Pharmacy, said, “Our highest priority is ensuring safe and timely access to medications for our patients and we’re committed to supporting women’s health care. At the same time, laws in certain states restrict the dispensing of medications for the purpose of inducing an abortion. 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. Pharmacists are caught in the middle on this issue. We will continue to focus on delivering care to our patients while complying with state laws and federal guidance that continues to evolve. To help ensure patients have quick and easy access to medications, we encourage providers to include their diagnosis on the prescriptions they write.”

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,” said Dr. Megan Cohen.

At a recent panel sponsored by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Dr. 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.

Atlanta OB/GYN Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks believes women of color will be disproportionally affected.

Atlanta OB/GYN's Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks and Dr. Megan Cohen
Atlanta OB/GYN’s Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks and Dr. Megan Cohen(Democratic Party of Georgia)

“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. Hailstorks said. “We’re gonna 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 Sue Liebel 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 believes doctors’ and patients’ concerns are valid, and 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.

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