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Pharmacies risk violating civil rights laws if they deny access to abortion medication, HHS says

Shoppers wait in line at the pharmacy of a Walmart store in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Callaghan O’Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday warned U.S. retail pharmacies that they risk violating civil rights law if they deny access to medication used in abortions under certain circumstances.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights said pharmacies cannot deny access to prescription medication used for reproductive health-care on the basis of the customer’s sex, pregnancy status and other protected groups under federal civil rights law.

This may include the prescription of the abortion pill, mifepristone used in combination with misoprostol, to assist with first-trimester miscarriages. The medication can also be used to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, according to HHS guidance issued to the nation’s 60,000 retail pharmacies.

HHS also said pharmacies risk violating civil rights law if they refuse to fill a prescription for methotrexate to halt an ectopic pregnancy.

People who believe a pharmacy is discriminating against them can file a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil rights, an official at the department told reporters on a call Wednesday. Complaints will be reviewed on a case by case basis, the official said.

“The Department is committed to improving maternal health — including for individuals who experience miscarriages — and vigorous enforcement of our civil rights laws is one way in which we plan to do so,” HHS said in guidance issued to the nation’s 60,000 retail pharmacies.

The Affordable Care Act prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, age and disability. Federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of current, past or intended pregnancy as well as medical conditions related to pregnancy, according to HHS.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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