WASHINGTON. D.C. (WGHP) – Walmart has rescinded its policy and will allow pharmacists in North Carolina to fill prescriptions for misoprostol, a drug that is prescribed for a variety of medical issues, without restrictions.

The drug misoprostol can be used as part of medical abortion. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano, File)

In a letter dated Monday, Bruce Harris, Walmart’s vice president for federal government affairs, wrote to Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) that, after getting clarification about state statute from the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy, Walmart had “updated its dispensing policy for North Carolina pharmacy associates.”

Manning and her fellow Democratic members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation – Rep. T.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson), Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Raleigh), Rep. David Price (D-Durham) and Rep. Alma Adams (D-Charlotte) – had sent a letter last week demanding answers about why Walmart had instructed its pharmacies not to distribute misoprostol.

Doctors say misoprostol is essential for women who have miscarriages and is used for various medical issues, such as stomach ulcers and arthritis, for both men and women. But misoprostol also can be used in combination with other drugs to induce a medical abortion.

Statutes related to abortion law, which are changing rapidly since the Supreme Court in June struck down Roe v. Wade and returned decisions about abortion to states, had prompted Walmart’s policy review.

“Walmart’s dispensing policy for misoprostol is intended to align with applicable state and federal requirements,” Harris’ letter states. “Walmart pharmacies dispense misoprostol for several medical indications, including management of miscarriage and to prevent or treat stomach ulcers, and our North Carolina policies have never required prescribers to include a diagnosis code on prescriptions for this medication. Walmart pharmacies and pharmacists are licensed and regulated by the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy.”

“The women and girls of North Carolina have the right to obtain the prescription medication their doctors prescribe without unnecessary restrictions placed on them by Walmart,” Manning said in a release. “Following my call to Walmart, demanding that Walmart rescind its harmful policy denying women access to medication used to treat miscarriages, Walmart changed its policy and will now fill these prescriptions as they should in accordance with the law.

“I am delighted women’s right to access this necessary medication has been restored in our state’s Walmart pharmacies. The reversal of this misguided policy is a victory for the health and fundamental rights of the women and girls of North Carolina. We will not allow corporations or radical politicians to interfere with the health care of patients. I will always fight to protect the health and freedoms of North Carolinians.”

Why the policy

Harris said that, on Aug. 1, Walmart had developed its dispensing policy, which stated: “The physician prescribing, dispensing, or otherwise providing any drug or chemical for the purpose of inducing an abortion shall be physically present in the same room as the patient when the first drug or chemical is administered to the patient.”

He wrote that the intent was to help determine whether a physician had to be present, but since then company officials had been in discussions with the executive director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy, who clarified the board’s position that the statute does not apply to pharmacies

The letter did not name Jay Campbell, who is the executive director, but Campbell had said last week that pharmacies “dispense” medications and don’t “administer” them.

Harris’s letter said that Campbell on Friday had provided Walmart with the board’s position that affirmed that perspective and inspired Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, to change its policy for the 193 pharmacies and 22 Sam’s Clubs it operates in the state.

Other questions

Manning’s letter from last week also demanded answers about how such a policy may have violated guidance about misoprostol from the Department of Health and Human Services and the state’s code of ethics for pharmacists. That letter required Walmart to explain why there was a list of medications that required coding to be filled, which could discriminate.

Harris wrote that “Walmart’s policy in North Carolina never required a diagnosis code for misoprostol. Walmart’s policy regarding diagnosis codes is intended to comply with applicable state laws and/or payer policies. For example, some states require diagnosis codes for certain controlled substances and abortion-inducing medications. Additionally, some health plans may request diagnosis codes or further information about the prescription during the pharmacy claim adjudication process. Walmart’s previous policy regarding misoprostol required the pharmacist to inquire of the prescriber (or patient if the prescriber was not available) the reason for the prescription to determine whether NC general statute applied.”

He wrote that the policy establishing a prescribing physician’s presence only was to comply with what the company thought the law to be, and he reiterated that Walmart does not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and prohibits retaliation against a person complaining about discrimination.

“This includes supplying medications; making determinations regarding the suitability of a prescribed medication for a patient; or advising patients about medications and how to take them,” Harris’ letter says.

Candidates for election

Manning, in the 6th Congressional District, Ross, in the 2nd District, and Adams in the 12th District, are candidates for re-election. Butterfield and Price are retiring.

Manning supports codifying Roe v. Wade, and she sponsored a bill to protect access to birth control that passed the House but has not been taken up in the Senate.

The Democrats did not reach out to the eight Republicans representing the state to see if they wanted to be included in the letter. Each of those GOP delegates – and other candidates on the ballot on Nov. 8 – has established a firm position in support of the right to life.