Don’t Let Pharmacists Discriminate Against Women
Posted by: Antoinette Bonsignore
The Washington State Board of Pharmacy (BOP) should require that all Washington pharmacies provide full access to all medications prescribed by medical professionals. Pharmacists should never be given the power to override the medical judgment of your doctor. Pharmacists should never be allowed to substitute or impose their own personal judgments on any woman who is simply trying to get a prescription filled for either contraception or emergency contraception.
In the case of Stormans et al v. Selecky et al. two pharmacists and a pharmacy challenged the BOP rules that mandate all licensed pharmacies to fill a patient’s prescription regardless of a pharmacist’s personal beliefs or judgments. In October 2007, a federal district court in Tacoma issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the neutral BOP rules until a trial could be scheduled. The federal district only limited its ruling to pharmacies and pharmacists that were refusing to distribute the Plan B emergency contraceptive. The district court decided to target women’s contraception for unique and unfair scrutiny under the BOP rules.
Eventually, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rescinded that injunction and declared that the district court abused its authority. The actual trial is now on hold to give the BOP enough time to change their rules. The BOP is now trying to change those neutral rules to give any pharmacist the right to pass judgment on any woman trying to get her prescription filled.
The “morning after” pill, also known as Plan B, will only work if you take it within 72 hours after having unprotected sex. So, if a pharmacist arbitrarily denies you access to Plan B, your risk of becoming pregnant increases. You would be forced to go to another pharmacy for your emergency prescription. This is a big problem if you happen to live in rural area where your transportation choices may be very limited or if you are handicapped and unable to travel long distances.
Low-income and women living in rural areas will bear the greatest burden if the BOP changes its rules. The woman that can least afford to bear this burden will be the woman who lives somewhere with access to only a few pharmacies and would need a car to get to those pharmacies. The burden increases when you consider other obstacles such as inflexible work schedules and child care. When you have a limited amount of time to get emergency contraception and limited financial resources - low income women become the most vulnerable victims of this discrimination. Access to birth control simply represents basic health care for the 98% of women that will use birth control at some point during their lives.
The endless claims by anti-choice activists that if you take Plan B you will terminate an existing pregnancy are simply false. Plan B is an emergency contraceptive only -- it will not cause an abortion. The abortion debate has somehow become bizarrely conflated with your right to get Plan B at a pharmacy or for that matter any other form of contraception. Whatever opinion a pharmacist may have about abortion is beside the point; a pharmacist must dispense all legal forms of contraception. This has absolutely nothing to do with abortion rights but the debate has become twisted to make it all about abortion.
Last week, the BOP finished the second round of its two public hearings on this issue. The BOP is still accepting public comments. The BOP cannot allow their rules to be subverted to give a pharmacist the legal authority to discriminate against women choosing to fill a prescription for any form of birth control.
You can contact the BOP and Governor Gregoire to urge them to keep the existing rules by sending written comments to Doreen E. Beebe, Board of Pharmacy, P.O. Box 47863, Olympia, Washington 98504-7863 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (360) 236-2901.