Teen Couldn’t Get Arthritis Meds After Abortion Ban. She Wasn’t Even Pregnant.

She's not the only person to say Walgreens delayed or denied a prescription for needed medication.
A Walgreens location in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
A Walgreens location in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Thursday, March 24, 2022. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A 14-year-old in Tucson, Arizona, has spent years taking a drug to manage her rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. But the drug can also be used to induce an abortion—and, days after Arizona enacted a law banning abortion, Emma Thompson’s prescription refill was denied.

Emma needs the drug methotrexate to help her stay out of the hospital, a local news outlet reported this weekend. Walgreens initially denied her prescription on Sept. 26, before relenting 24 hours later and fulfilling it.

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“Welcome to AZ,” her doctor Deborah Jane Power tweeted on Sept. 26. The medication, Power added, was “denied purely because she’s a female, barely a teenager. Livid! No discussion, just a denial.”

Emma’s mother, Kaitlin Preble, told the Arizona news outlet that the ordeal left her shaking and crying.

“It’s her first year and she’s in high school and it feels like a dream,” Preble said. “She’s not in a wheelchair, she has a social life and friends for the first time and a life all young people should have.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, other doctors and patients have reported that they too have faced delays and denials in getting medications that could be used for abortions. On Twitter, one user tweeted that their daughter needs methotrexate for Crohn’s and “RA”—presumably, rheumatoid arthritis—but had her prescription denied as well.

“She is in her ‘childbearing’ years,” said the user, who said they were also in Tucson but didn’t specify which pharmacy their daughter used. “We are freaking out.”

In July, the American College of Rheumatology even released a statement urging pharmacists to fulfill methotrexate prescriptions “without delay and with the assumption that they are not being used to terminate a pregnancy.” 

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That same month, eight weeks into a wanted pregnancy, Dr. Amanda Schwartz miscarried, she told VICE News. Schwartz, a Wisconsin OB-GYN, needed misoprostol, a drug commonly used to induce abortions, to treat the miscarriage. But when she went to Walgreens to pick it up, Schwartz was repeatedly told that she couldn’t have the medication due to an insurance issue, she said.

“I asked to speak to someone because I wanted it over, so I was more than willing to pay cash for these medications if I could just get the meds that day to take them and be done with all of this,” Schwartz said. “And that was when I was informed by the pharmacy technician that they could not dispense the misoprostol until my physician called them and told them it was for a miscarriage and not for an abortion.”

Ultimately, she only had to wait a few hours for the prescription, Schwartz said. Before Roe’s overturning, Schwartz said that this had never happened to any of her patients. Wisconsin, like Arizona, has recently enacted an abortion ban.

In response to VICE News questions about Thompson and Schwartz’s cases, Walgreens said in an email that the company’s “focus is meeting the needs of our patients and making sure they have access to the medications they need, in compliance with applicable pharmacy laws and regulations.”

“Trigger laws in various states require additional steps for dispensing certain prescriptions and apply to all pharmacies, including Walgreens. In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers as needed, to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions,” Walgreens continued. “We provide ongoing training and information to help our pharmacists understand the latest requirements in their area, and with these supports, the expectation is they are empowered to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions.”

Schwartz said she prescribes dangerous medication regularly, such as oxycodone, and doesn’t get calls from pharmacists about them.

“I feel like it just really added to the emotional toll. My husband and I were already so sad,” Schwartz told VICE News. “And then to feel this kind of anger on top of it, not just because it took a couple extra hours to get the medication, but it just brought up all of these feelings about what women in general are just being forced to go through and these hoops they’re having to jump through in these awful moments of their life.”