United States House Republicans have introduced a bill to ensure pharmacists can refuse patients’ requests for abortion medicines if they oppose. The Pharmacist Conscience Protection Act, which was proposed on Wednesday, forbids the federal government from punishing pharmacists who object on moral or religious grounds to prescribing medications that might result in an abortion. The bill comes following the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) guidance which states that pharmacists who refuse to provide prescriptions for abortions could be in violation of several civil rights laws.
The HHS argued that in accordance with federal civil rights rules, pharmacists are still required to dispense contraceptives, abortion medications, and other reproductive healthserviuces. The state “Maternal deaths are especially high among Black women and Native American women—regardless of their income or education levels. The Supreme Court’s Decisionin Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will exacerbate these inequities and disparities for women across the country. Further, the early loss of pregnancy (before 13 completed weeks) is extremely common, experienced by about 10 percent of those who know they are pregnant.” Additionally, the HHS contend that sex discrimination is performed when pregnant women are treated unfairly because of their pregnancy or other circumstances. “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 was issued approximately a month after the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule a woman’s contsituional right to an abortion.
For the House Republicans, the HHS’ guidance forces Amricans in the healthcare sector to violate their beliefs. In a statement posted to Rep. Carter’s website, he argues, “Your first amendment rights don’t go away when you put on a white coat”. He continues, “pharmacists and other health professionals should never be punished for their moral beliefs in protecting life, or be threatened or forced to facilitate abortions against such beliefs”. Small pharmacies have expressed opposition to the guidelines, with industry groups claiming it would lead to inconsistencies between federal and state legislation and place pharmacists in a difficult spot. 23 House Republicans have co-sponsored the bill including Reps. Chris Smith, Tracey Mann, Lance Gooden and Greg Steube.