The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that isolated complaints from women who say they were denied prescriptions for emergency contraception have been surfacing around the U.S. for several years.
Michele Crider went to a chain drug store to fill a prescription for emergency contraceptive pills in 1997 and was turned away. Crider, then a 28-year-old mother of a toddler, was able to fill her prescription elsewhere, but was angry that she had been refused. Soon after, she complained, “Without knowing my situation, he could have affected a huge part of my life. What if there had been no other pharmacy to go to?”
Another 32-year-old woman from New Mexico alleges that she was denied a prescription for emergency contraception in Silver City, New Mexico. “The scary thing was if it had been Sunday night….we would have had to drive 75 miles to find another open pharmacy. You think about a poor rural woman with no car; it would have been a real bad deal.”
In response to the Silver City complaint, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) conducted a survey of pharmacies throughout New Mexico. Of all the pharmacies listed in public telephone directories, a full 15% would not fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. This 15% refusal rate is especially disturbing given that emergency contraception needs to be administered within 72 hours of sex. For poor or rural women, finding a second or third pharmacy could prove an expensive and time-consuming process.
Chain stores CVS and Kmart have already discussed the issue, but so far have not developed any definite rules on whether or not a pharmacist has the right to refuse a prescription based on religious or moral issues. Spokesperson Todd Andrews commented that chain drug store CVS has considered drafting “some kind of policy statement to provide pharmacists guidelines on the matter,” but has not yet done so. “This is a difficult balance to achieve, because we don’t want pharmacists to do anything against their conscience,” said Andrews. “We also have an obligation to dispense medications.”
A spokesperson for Kmart said that the discount retailer has no “hard-and-fast rule,” regarding pharmacists’ obligation to fill all prescriptions, but has allegedly fired at least one pharmacist for lying to a customer and refusing a prescription for a particular brand of birth control pill. Indiana pharmacist Karen Brauer claims that she was disciplined and then fired for refusing to abide by a command to fill all legal prescriptions “regardless of my feelings or beliefs.”
The 1,500-member pharmacist’s organization “Pharmacists for Life” urges its supporters to refuse prescriptions for all birth control prescriptions, including oral contraceptives, emergency contraception, implants, injections, and intrauterine devices based on the chance, however remote, that these contraceptive methods might disrupt the implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman’s uterus. The group also opposes any regulations or rules which would require pharmacists to refer patients to another source when they are ethically opposed to providing a drug themselves.
The American Pharmaceutical Association has advised pharmacists who object to the use of a given drug to refer patients to another source.