Alabama Board of Pharmacy clarifies ectopic pregnancy treatment after AG’s remarks

Amid state’s near-total abortion ban, board says they get questions about what “they can fill and what is appropriate”

By: - February 7, 2023 6:00 am
A blister pack with one of three pill remaining and a Mifegyne pill box behind it.

A container of Mifepristone, a pill used to induce abortions. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Alabama State Board of Pharmacy will not take disciplinary action against pharmacists using abortion-inducing drugs for other medical conditions.

In a unanimous vote at its Jan. 25 board meeting in Birmingham, the board said it would give guidance on filling medication for ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and other conditions unrelated to abortions.

Donna Yeatman, who serves as executive secretary, said the board continues to get questions from pharmacists as to what “they can fill and what is appropriate.”

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

The Justice Department in early January gave the U.S. Postal Service permission to deliver abortion medications to states with strict restrictions on abortion. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall strongly opposes the move and has urged the Federal Drug Administration to reverse the policy.

Marshall last month suggested the attorney general’s office would target providers of abortion medication. Though Marshall appeared to walk back the remarks later, Yeatman said they added to pharmacists’ uncertainty.

“It just continues to give pharmacists more pause as to what they can and cannot do,” Yeatman said in the board meeting.

Messages seeking comment were left with the Alabama attorney general’s office last week.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson last June, which overturned federal abortion protections, allowed a near-total ban on the procedure to take effect in Alabama. Uncertainty about which medications are used for abortions versus other procedures disrupted care, according to a joint statement by the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and National Community Pharmacists Association.

With many medical professionals uncertain about their legal obligations when it comes to prescribing or dispensing these drugs, the four associations said state medical and pharmacy boards, organizations, and policymakers should take steps to safeguard continued care for patients.

During a discussion on whether medical professionals needed documentation that the medication would not be used for abortion, the Board agreed that, while written documentation is preferred, verbal communication would be enough in order to prevent delay in treatment.

Jennifer Neumann, lawyer for the board, clarified that the board’s decision would not present allegations or regulatory action. Rather, it would be a situation in which pharmacists can receive guidance on whether it would put them in jeopardy of having a potential disciplinary or board action taken.

“I do want to be clear that this would be those questions that would be answered by board staff with regards to what we have the authority of board to approve or not approve,” Neumann said. “So, it wouldn’t be with regards to any potential legal liability or criminal liability.”

Robin Marty, operations director of West Alabama Women’s Center, said the move was largely ceremonial since the state said that non-viable pregnancies like ectopic pregnancies can be terminated, and that the move is largely to protect pharmacists, not patients.

“I don’t think that the pharmacy board or pharmacists are in any danger of being arrested over accidentally helping someone with an abortion,” Marty said. “What I’m more worried about is the fact that either through fear, which maybe this would address, but far more likely bias and religious beliefs, that they are going to be unlikely to fill prescriptions, because we’ve had that happen before.”


Let us know what you think...

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper, and Kaiser Health News, where he covered community health workers' successful efforts to vaccinate refugees in an Atlanta suburb. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.