States move to legalize pharmacists’ right to refuse on pill
Lawmakers in nearly half the states have introduced bills in this year’s legislative sessions to allow pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception or other birth-control medicines based on their religious or moral objections.
Four states — Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota — have passed laws that permit druggists to deny certain prescriptions, including emergency or other contraceptives.
“This is definitely a hot-button issue for a lot of people [. . .] it’s pretty controversial, regardless of which side you are on,” Madeline Kriescher, a research analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), said on Aug. 22.
For years, states have been enacting laws designed to limit abortion, including legislation to let doctors and other heath care providers refuse to perform or participate in an abortion.
“Now, the issue is expanding as pharmacists are refusing to fill emergency contraception and contraception prescriptions,” the NCSL says on its Web site, www.ncsl.org.
Mrs. Kriescher said the bills all stalled in committee, but prolife advocates expect many of the measures to return. Merchants in the new university town of Ave Maria, being developed in southwestern Florida by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, will be asked not to sell contraceptives. But legal issues prevent them from being prohibited from doing so.
Jim Sedlak, vice president of the American Life League, said that organization supports the efforts of a 1,500-member group called Pharmacists for Life International in their efforts to allow pharmacists to forgo filling prescriptions for birth-control medications.
Whether the drug is the morning-after pill or the traditional birth-control bill, Mr. Sedlak said, “One of the mechanisms is to prevent implantation, which means the ending of human life.
“Pharmacists are being caught in the middle, so many of them are starting to say no,” he said.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and other pro-choice groups see such measures as a big threat, saying they interfere with a doctor’s decision about the proper medication for a patient. The group has started a campaign called “Fill My Pills Now” designed to overturn policies that allow druggists to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions if they have moral objections.
“These pharmacists — emboldened by religious extremists and empowered by arch-conservatives in Washington, D.C., and around the nation — are no longer content to live their own lives as they choose,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards wrote in a recent letter explaining the campaign.
“Now they are trying to tell you and me how to live our lives. And too often they succeed. That has got to stop,” she added.
In the mailing, Planned Parenthood also said three major chains — Target, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie — currently let pharmacists refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions.
But Target said on Aug. 22 that “Plan B, the emergency contraceptive, is the only prescription for which this policy applies.”
And if a pharmacist refuses to fill such a prescription, he must find another Target pharmacist to do so or refer the customer to a different drugstore, the company said.
Representatives for Walgreens and Winn-Dixie could not be reached for comment.