Washington State Pharmacy Board Says No to Refusal

Amie Newman

Good news from Washington State where the Board of Pharmacy just voted to ensure that pharmacies may not refuse to dispense legal medication to patients - without discrimination or delay.

Patients, advocates, and women in Washington State celebrated last week as the Washington State Board of Pharmacy voted 5-1 not to go ahead with a prescription medication rule change, but instead maintain the policy which preserves patients’ rights to access legal medication at a pharmacy, without delay.

No one knows for sure what made the Washington State Pharmacy Board reverse its course just last month. In November, the board had announced rather suddenly that it would consider changing the rules for filling prescription medication and allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense certain legal medication – Plan B being one of those.

It was an odd decision given that after an extensive public input process the Board had already decided, in 2007, to establish a rule that ensured that a pharmacy must fill a customer’s legal prescription. The rule did allow individual pharmacists to opt out of dispensing medication if it collided with their personal belief system, but only if another pharmacist was available, on site, to fill the prescription “without discrimination or delay,” according to a joint news release from Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington and Legal Voice.

The 2007 rule was immediately challenged by two pharmacists and a pharmacy owned by a man who was/is “morally opposed” to Plan B. The case was then put on hold, last month, while the State Pharmacy Board decided to inexplicably re-open the rules process with an eye towards allowing pharmacies to refuse to fill patient prescriptions.

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The pharmacists who objected to the 2007 rule seem likely to lose their case- which made the Board’s recent decision to potentially change the rules even more questionable. When the Pharmacy Board announced its plan to revisit the rules, however, the public groundswell in opposition was simply too much to ignore. Almost immediately, thousands of comments came pouring into the Board. Of the 5,300 comments, over 80% of those were in favor of keeping the current rule in place. That is, most people did not think pharmacies should be able to opt out of dispensing medication to its customers if the pharmacy registered a “personal opposition” to said medication.

“We’re thrilled that the Board of Pharmacy has listened to the thousands of Washingtonians who contacted them to oppose changing existing rules which are balanced, fair and promote patients’ rights,” said Jennifer Allen, Director of Public Policy, Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington.

The case brought by the pharmacists will now move forward but Legal Voice, a women’s rights legal group which represents seven Washington patients who have intervened to defend the rules, is confident.

“Legal Voice commends the Board of Pharmacy for retaining the existing rules, said Sara L. Ainsworth, Senior Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice. “We are confident these rules are constitutional and stand ready to defend them – and patients’ health – in court.”

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

News Law and Policy

ACLU of Indiana Sues State Health Department, County Prosecutors Over Ultrasound Law

Michelle D. Anderson

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood joined forces again on Thursday to challenge an anti-choice law that the organizations say will prove burdensome for reproductive clinics and their patients alike in Indiana.

The two parties filed a lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to challenge a provision of the omnibus HEA 1337, which requires an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion procedure.

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion. At the same time, the clinic must obtain the state-required “informed consent.”

The provision went into effect July 1. Prior to its enactment, Indiana law required an ultrasound but did not mandate the time at which the imaging had to be provided. As such, clinics typically performed ultrasounds right before the procedure.

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The plaintiffs claim the new law would require many patients to make two lengthy trips to obtain an abortion or pay for an overnight stay in order to receive care. This, Planned Parenthood officials said, would also burden its majority low-income clientele by causing them to lose at least a day of wages and by potentially requiring them to arrange special child care.

The law, the plaintiffs argue, would also cause clinics to become more crowded, delaying abortions to the point where some patients may not be able to receive care within Indiana’s legal limits. Indiana bans abortions after 20 weeks except when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, told the Indiana News Service the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, opened the door for the organization to seek further review of Indiana’s laws.

In an official statement, Cockrum said the 18-hour ultrasound requirement was “unduly burdensome” and added no value to the state’s already restrictive abortion policies.

The 10-page lawsuit, which argues that there is no medical justification for an ultrasound 18 hours before an abortion, lists Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams and the prosecutors of Marion, Lake, Monroe, and Tippecanoe Counties as defendants.

As commissioner, Adams is the “duly appointed official” in charge of the agency responsible for licensing abortion clinics pursuant to Indiana law, the suit explains.

Similarly, the prosecutors of the four counties listed in the lawsuit, help enforce the laws that the four Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortion care in Indiana must adhere to.

While Planned Parenthood has 23 health centers throughout the state, it only provides abortions in Bloomington, Merrillville, Indianapolis, and Lafayette.

Thursday’s lawsuit is the second legal action Planned Parenthood has taken against Indiana officials in recent weeks to challenge laws the health-care provider says could make securing abortion care cumbersome or impossible for state residents.

On June 30, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to block several provisions in HEA 1337 that would have kept a pregnant person from terminating a pregnancy when an abnormality, such as a life-threatening disability, is present in the fetus.

The lawsuit filed Thursday asks for the law to be blocked during the trial and until the court makes a decision, a declaration that the ultrasound provision is unconstitutional, and an monetary award for the plaintiff’s attorney fees.