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October 29. 2013 1:41AM

Court asked to bar Planned Parenthood from distributing abortion pills

A pro-life group is asking a court to bar the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy from licensing Planned Parenthood clinics to dispense the medical abortion pill, RU-486.

Michael Tierney, attorney for New Hampshire Right to Life, filed a petition for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on Friday in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene.

The group alleges the pharmacy board "acted unlawfully" when it granted pharmaceutical licenses to six Planned Parenthood of Northern New England clinics in New Hampshire.

State law allows non-pharmacists to dispense prescription drugs in family planning clinics operated by, or under contract with, the state Department of Health and Human Services, provided each clinic has obtained a "limited retail drug distributor" license from the Board of Pharmacy.

But NH Right to Life contends the board acted illegally when it granted such licenses to Planned Parenthood clinics in Manchester, Derry, Claremont, Exeter, Lebanon and Keene.

That's because the Executive Council in 2011 voted to end a contract with the agency to provide family planning services.

The federal government subsequently contracted directly with Planned Parenthood to provide those services in the state.

NH Right to Life has been fighting for two years to get the pharmacy board to reject licenses for those clinics, but the board has continued to grant the licenses.

Now it's taking its arguments to court.

Planned Parenthood President and CEO Meagan Gallagher called the court action "the latest effort by a politically motivated group to interfere with women's access to high quality, affordable health care, including birth control, at PPNNE."

"We are confident that we are now, as we have been for over 20 years, appropriately licensed to dispense medications at each of our six health centers," she said in an emailed statement.

Lynmarie Cusack, assistant attorney general in the civil bureau of the Attorney General's Office, said her office is reviewing the petition filed against the Board of Pharmacy and said it would be "premature" to comment on specific allegations.

But she said, "We are confident that they were operating within the bounds of the law."

N.H. Right to Life alleges that Planned Parenthood violates Food and Drug Administration safety protocols by sending patients home with the medical abortion drug instead of administering it in a physician's office and by using it later in pregnancy than the FDA recommends.

Tierney said similar lawsuits over FDA safety protocols have been filed in other states, but most have Planned Parenthood and the states on opposing sides.

Here, he said, "The Board of Pharmacy is allowing the distribution of the abortion pill contrary to FDA safety protocols, and that is unlawful."

Gallagher said Planned Parenthood "has rigorous safety guidelines in place" and takes seriously its responsibility to follow state and federal laws. "The allegations here are baseless and without merit," she said.

This issue is expected to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case out of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, some states, most recently Texas, have passed laws requiring clinics to comply with the FDA safety protocols for medical abortion.

Rep. Lenette Peterson, R-Merrimack, was going to sponsor similar legislation here for the upcoming session.

But she recently withdrew her Legislative Service Request.

With a Democratic majority in the House, Peterson said, pro-life Republicans decided to focus their efforts on another bill, to adopt regulations for abortion clinics.

She said she will sponsor the measure in a later session if Republicans regain the majority in the House.

In addition to N.H. Right to Life, Tierney filed the petition on behalf of two Richmond residents, Betty Buzzell and Robert Carbone.

A recent change in state law allows taxpayers to seek relief in court when a state agency has engaged in "unlawful or unauthorized" conduct, he said.

Reached for comment, Carbone referred questions to Tierney. But Buzzell said she happily agreed to put her name on the lawsuit when Right to Life asked.

"I have daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters," she said. "I'm concerned about the RU-486 being administered without doctors' supervision, and I know there's been terrible results of that with women."

The legal petition cites a 2011 report by the Food and Drug Administration that 2,207 "adverse events," including 14 deaths, have been associated with use of the drug mifepristone (RU- 486) since it was approved in 2000.

However, that 2011 FDA report notes that those events "cannot with certainty be causally attributed to mifepristone."

The FDA estimates that 1.52 million women have used the drug since 2000, and 14 deaths have been reported. Eight deaths were associated with sepsis; all but one involved vaginal use of the drug.

The other six deaths involved "unique" events, the FDA reported, including one suspected homicide, a methadone overdose, substance abuse/drug overdose, delayed onset of toxic shock syndrome and two cases of ruptured ectopic pregnancy.

swickham@unionleader.com


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