When discussing reproductive health services, pharmacists can reduce confusion and educate their communities by understanding and using clinically accurate language. Several key terms are listed below.
- Abortion: ending a pregnancy with medication or a medical procedure.
- Abortifacient: an agent (such as a medication) that induces abortion.
- Teratogenic: of, relating to, or causing fetal developmental malformations. Medications that are teratogenic are distinct from abortifacients.
- Contraceptive: a device or medication serving to prevent pregnancy. Medications that are contraceptives are distinct from abortifacients.
- Emergency contraceptive: a therapy used to prevent pregnancy after an unprotected or inadequately protected act of sexual intercourse. An emergency contraceptive is not an abortifacient, as it does not end a pregnancy. To learn more, reference The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)’s practice bulletin on emergency contraception.
Reference ACOG’s guide to language and abortion for more information about using language on this topic that is medically appropriate and unbiased.
Navigating federal and state laws
The state and federal legal impact of the Dobbs decision on pharmacy practice is evolving and complex.
Recently, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance for retail pharmacies that sets forth their obligations under federal civil rights laws, which conflicts with some state laws and raises concerns for our nation's pharmacies and pharmacists. The policy outlined seeks to protect “the rights of women and pregnant people in their ability to access care that is free from discrimination,” including their ability to access reproductive health care—such as prescription medications from their pharmacy—free from discrimination." In essence, OCR states that failure to provide medications for reproductive health is discriminatory against pregnant women. However, there is no guidance or clarity for pharmacists who practice in states that prohibit the dispensation of specific mediations for reproductive health.
APhA issued a statement expressing concerns that the guidance causes confusion, impedes pharmacists’ use of professional judgment, and has unintended consequences that could compromise patients’ safety. APhA is working with HHS/OCR to provide clarity for pharmacists regarding the guidance and conflicts between state and federal laws. APhA will keep pharmacists informed as information is available.
The following resources may be useful for navigating the legal landscape:
- The Kaiser Family Foundation