On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, 597 U.S. ___ (2022) declaring that the U.S. Constitution does not protect the right to abortion. At least eight states banned abortion the day the ruling was released and 13 more have so-called “trigger laws” that will prohibit abortion within 30 days after Dobbs.
As disastrous as these laws are for reproductive freedom, they do not just ban abortion. They ban access to several important medications used to treat chronic illnesses such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease because they could be used to induce medical abortions and that has caused some doctors and pharmacists, worried about liability, to start cancelling prescriptions for any drugs that could arguably cause a medical abortion.
Recently, The LA Times interviewed a lupus patient from Tysons Corner, Virginia, whose rheumatologist cancelled her prescription to methotrexate, a cheap, popular drug used to treat several autoimmune diseases and cancer. The drug is sometimes used as an off-label medication to end an ectopic pregnancy. These types of pregnancies are not viable and often fatal. A medical abortion is strongly recommended to protect the life of the mother.
The Times also interviewed a patient who uses methotrexate to treat Crohn’s disease. Although there are other drugs that could be used to treat this disease, they are often significantly more expensive or carry harmful side effects. In the case of the Crohn’s patient, other drugs put her at serious risk of opportunistic infections. TikTok has a growing number of stories of doctors and pharmacies refusing to prescribe or cancelling existing prescriptions for methotrexate.
These bans do not only affect adults; children are getting caught in the restrictions. The Times details how a pharmacist initially refused to dispense methotrexate to an 8-year old girl in Texas who suffered from juvenile arthritis. In a note to the child’s doctor, the Times reports the pharmacist wrote, “Females of possible childbearing potential have to have diagnosis on hard copy with state abortion laws.”
“I have gotten some reports where children have been denied methotrexate fo their juvenile arthritis until they’ve proven they’re not pregnant,” said Dr. Cuoghi Edens, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at University of Chicago. -The LA Times
Moreover, methotrexate is not the only medication impacted by state abortion bans. TikTok users chronicle difficulties receiving routine medications including birth control from pharmacies across the country. In a now viral video, a TikTok user describes a conversation with her doctor in which she was informed that she may no longer have access to the heart disease medication because it could induce a medical abortion.
Of course, pregnant patients are the most directly impacted by Dobbs. Those suffering miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, or experiencing other pregnancy-related health issues are also seeing dangerous delays in care. According to the Washington Post, at one Kansas City, Missouri, hospital, administrators temporarily required “pharmacist approval” before dispensing medications used to stop postpartum hemorrhages, because they can also be also used for medical abortions.
In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin, auditioning for the Republican nomination for President or, more likely, the opportunity to serve as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ running mate, has asked Republican members of the General Assembly to put together a bill banning abortion after 15-weeks, but he has also said he’ll sign any bill that “protects life” arguably including a total ban on abortion.
Virginia Republicans no doubt will be emboldened by the restrictive bills being passed this year in other states. Democrats only have a one vote majority in the Virginia Senate to prevent this from happening. Next year, our race in Fredericksburg could determine the future of healthcare access in Virginia. The stakes, as we have seen, could not be higher.
Ben Litchfield has spent his career fighting to protect consumers, previously working as an attorney for the National Credit Union Administration and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He served for four years as Chair of the Stafford Democratic Committee helping to elect diverse candidates for national, state, and local office. He is currently running in the new Virginia State Senate District 27.
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