Florida agency warns pharmacists not to dispense abortion pills

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With pharmacies in some states preparing to dispense abortion pills, Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration sent a letter Thursday to all state healthcare providers warning them that do so in Florida is illegal.

“The Agency issues this alert to remind providers that they must continue to comply with Florida laws that govern the performance of abortions,” the Florida agency said via an email.

The warning follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s early January decision allowing retail pharmacies to stock and dispense abortion pills in states that allow the procedure.

Pharmacy chains including Walgreens and CVS both said they plan to get certified to dispense the abortion pill mifepristone in states where allowed. Mifepristone can be used to end an intrauterine pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation. It recently became the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the United States.

Until now, pregnant women could either receive the pill directly from their doctor or have it prescribed via telemedicine and sent by mail, depending on their state’s laws. Pharmacies were not included in the process.

In Florida, abortion is legal up until 15 weeks of gestation. However, state law says only a physician can terminate a pregnancy, not a pharmacist, and it must be done in person after a 24-hour waiting period.

ACHA’s warning also referenced a Florida law stating “It is unlawful for any person to perform or assist in performing an abortion on a person, except in an emergency care situation, other than in a validly licensed hospital or abortion clinic or in a physician’s office.”

Florida is among 18 states where pharmacies are barred from dispensing the drugs either because abortion is illegal or because patients can only get the pills directly from a physician.

At news briefing Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to a media question and said CVS and Walgreens will not be offering mifepristone at pharmacies in Florida.

In its email, the Florida agency’s alert made clear that willfully violating the abortion laws could result in criminal penalties and that the state would refer “any evidence of criminal activity” to local law enforcement.

The FDA ruling regarding pharmacies won’t change the medication abortion process in Florida at clinics where doctors continue to prescribe and dispense mifepristone to patients, said Laura Goodhue, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida.

“The medication still has to be provided by a physician handing it over to a patient at a licensed facility,” she said.

Mifepristone, a two-pill regiment, differs from Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, which is widely available at Florida pharmacies and considered more of an emergency contraceptive.

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.