A pharmacist’s refusal to fill two prescriptions for emergency contraception (EC) on February 23 was the cause of a protest outside an Illinois drugstore last week. The protest, organized by Planned Parenthood, draws attention to a problem that is becoming increasingly widespread—that of pharmacists refusing to fill women’s prescriptions for contraceptives because of what they cite as religious beliefs. “Women should never be denied basic health care services by pharmacists who choose to impose their own beliefs on others,” Steve Trombloy, president of the Chicago Area Planned Parenthood, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Cases of refusals to fill prescriptions have been reported in at least 10 states, with some pharmacists refusing to even transfer the prescription to someone who is willing to fill it. Often these refusals are accompanied by demeaning and medically inaccurate lectures from the pharmacists. “It’s outrageous. It’s sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women,” Rachel Laser of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) told the Washington Post. According to the NWLC, four states currently have passed laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on religious beliefs, while four states have had legislation introduced that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.
The American Pharmacists Association’s (APA) policy concerning objections to the filling of a prescription is to at all times ensure patient access to legally prescribed medications, according to the NWLC. Thus, a pharmacist should immediately transfer a prescription if he or she feels uncomfortable filling it. “What we suggest,” Susan Winckler, APA’s vice president for policy and communications, told the Washington Post, “is that [pharmacists] identify those situations ahead of time and have an alternative system set up so the patient has access to their therapy.”
Pharmacists are regulated by individual state laws and licensing boards. Earlier this month, a judge ruled in the first case of a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control prescription to be considered by a state’s licensing board that Neil Noesen, a Wisconsin pharmacist, should be reprimanded for his actions.