Doctors, pharmacists say state abortion laws are too vague

Some hospitals and pharmacies are advising against providing certain drugs, the AMA and other groups said. They contend new state laws are hurting patient care.

America’s doctors and pharmacists say state laws restricting abortion are impeding the care of patients, including those who aren’t trying to end pregnancies.

Some states have passed laws prohibiting virtually all abortions, with limited exceptions, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruled abortion is not a constitutional right.

The high court’s ruling placed the matter before states, and analysts say about half the nation’s states are on the path to barring abortion. Twelve states have already approved laws prohibiting most abortions, The New York Times reports.

Read more: Legal battles continue in states over emergency care in state abortion laws

As new state laws take effect, doctors and pharmacists say they are being prevented from providing proper care to their patients. Too often, the laws are vague and confusing, they say.

The American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and National Community Pharmacists Association have issued a joint statement outlining the problems with state laws emerging around the country.

They cite a host of roadblocks to patient care.

Some hospitals are turning to their lawyers who, wary of lawsuits, are advising against providing certain drugs, the groups say.

Some organizations have taken emergency contraceptives out of kits used to aid sexual assault victims because of concerns of liability.

Pharmacies are adding new administrative hurdles to prescribing some medications, such as confirming a patient’s diagnosis with a doctor, the organizations said. This is occurring in cases where drugs have a variety of uses.

Lacking key details for providers, the state laws are confounding doctors and physicians, the AMA and pharmacy groups said.

“In many states, these laws prohibit prescribing and dispensing an ‘abortion-inducing drug,’ or contain other comparable terms,” the groups said. “This language is vague, and it is unclear whether it prohibits certain medications only when prescribed to induce abortion or whether a medication is prohibited entirely if it has the potential to induce abortion regardless of the condition for which it was prescribed.”

The groups cited methotrexate, which can be used to terminate pregnancy, but is also used as a common treatment for arthritis, as well as cancer. Mifepristone, which is used to end pregnancies, is also prescribed in medical emergencies, such as an ectopic pregnancy, and for the medical management of a miscarriage.

Patient care is being harmed, the AMA and pharmacists’ groups said.

“Patients who rely on these medications for reasons unrelated to pregnancy termination report new challenges in accessing these and other medications, and it is placing our patients’ health at risk,” the groups said in their statement.

The AMA and the pharmacists’ organizations urged state policymakers to allow doctors and pharmacists to treat patients without undue interference and “without fear of professional sanction or liability.”

“We strongly urge state medical and pharmacy boards, agencies, and policymakers to act to help ensure that our patients retain continuity of care and that our members clearly understand their legal and licensing obligations,” the groups said.

Emergency physicians are being caught in the middle of the state laws, and legal battles continue as health advocates seek clarity in providing emergency care.

The federal government has advised hospitals and health systems that federal law supersedes state abortion laws when it comes to emergency care.

In July, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to providers spelling out that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act protects providers when offering abortions to protect the life or heath of patients. Becerra also warned hospitals and health systems that if they don’t follow the federal law in emergencies, they could face financial penalties and the termination of their Medicare agreement.

Last month, a federal judge in Idaho struck down a portion of that state’s abortion law related to emergency care, saying federal law trumps state law. However, a federal judge in Texas ruled in August that the federal guidance doesn’t derail that state’s law regarding abortions and emergency care.