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State officials issue guidance to Mass. pharmacies: stock abortion pills

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

State officials on Wednesday reminded Massachusetts pharmacies that they must stock all reproductive health medications including mifepristone, a drug that can safely end a pregnancy in its early stages and whose availability is the subject of dueling lawsuits.

In a statement, the state Department of Public Health said the “clarifying guidance” came from the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy.

“Our regulations require pharmacies to stock and/or procure all prescriptions necessary to meet the needs of the community, and we interpret that to include all reproductive health medications, including Mifepristone,” Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke said. “This is consistent with our standards as they relate to other basic though controversial medications, including naloxone.”


Mifepristone is an abortion-inducing drug. Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids.

In November, anti-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit in Texas, asking the court to overturn the FDA’s approval of Mifepristone. In their suit, the groups claimed federal regulators “lacked authority” to approve the drug for abortion more than two decades ago.

The case is pending, but in the meantime officials in Massachusetts are reminding pharmacies they must carry the drug.

“Here in Massachusetts, we will always protect access to reproductive care, including abortion,” Governor Maura T. Healey said in Wednesday’s statement. “At a time when states are rushing to ban medication abortion and some pharmacies are irresponsibly restricting access to it, we are reminding Massachusetts pharmacies that they have an obligation to provide critical reproductive health medications, including Mifepristone,” Healey said.

The Texas lawsuit was filed about five months after the US Supreme Court overturned its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, ending the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide that had existed for nearly 50 years and plunging the country into a divisive new political battle with major implications for the health and lives of women.


Officials in blue states like Massachusetts have vowed to protect abortion rights in their jurisdictions, while a number of red states have moved to restrict such rights since the high court ruling.

According to the DPH, attorneys general in 20 states have signed letters calling on pharmacies in their states to refuse to distribute mifepristone.

Meanwhile 12 states, including Rhode Island, have filed suit against the FDA, challenging certain federal restrictions on the distribution of mifepristone. That suit is also pending.

Also joining the suit are Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Vermont.

Mifepristone, known by the brand name Mifeprex, was approved by the FDA in 2000. Evidence showed that a two-drug medication regimen — starting with mifepristone and followed by misoprostol — ends a pregnancy within its first 10 weeks safely and effectively. Both drugs are also used for medical reasons besides abortions.

“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes access to abortion as a fundamental right and as a basic healthcare service which those in the healthcare system have an obligation to provide and support,” state Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh said in the release. “We urge pharmacy providers nationwide to commit to making all reproductive health medications available based on state and federal laws.”

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.