February 27, 2013
New Bill: Pharmacies, But Not Pharmacists, Must Dispense Birth Control

Washington, D.C.—Legislation has been reintroduced in Congress to prevent pharmacies from denying the sale of contraceptives to customers because of any pharmacy employee’s religious beliefs.

The latest version of the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act was introduced about 6 months after the Affordable Care Act and makes birth control available to women without copays.

Cosponsors said they reintroduced the measure to “protect a woman’s fundamental right of access to legal contraception.”

“This legislation would prevent a pharmacy from interfering in the personal medical decisions made by a patient and her doctor,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). “Birth control is basic health care for women, and Obamacare has removed financial hurdles for millions of women; we can't allow other obstacles to be placed in their way.”

“The last thing any woman needs is to be denied their prescriptions or Plan B at the pharmacy. This bill puts the decision-making where it belongs: with the woman,” added House of Representatives sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

The legislators said in a press release that women in at least 24 states have reported situations where they were denied access to birth control and emergency contraception, adding that the act “strikes a balance between the rights of individual pharmacists who might have personal objections to contraception and the rights of women to receive their medication.”

Under the bill, while individual pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription, the pharmacy is required to make sure contraception is provided—even if another pharmacist has to be called in. In cases where contraception is available but the particular product is not in stock, the pharmacy is required to help the customer obtain the medication without delay by the method of her preference. That could include a special order, referral, or a transferred prescription.

The legislation is strongly supported by groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America. The group’s president, Ilyse Hogue, argued in a press release that federal action is necessary “given the pervasive reports of pharmacists who are personally opposed to contraception arbitrarily refusing to fill women’s prescriptions.”

NARAL also disseminated a list of more than a dozen “personal stories” of customers who said they were denied access to birth control at pharmacies.

“The white coat does not make pharmacists the judge and jury of our medical decisions. Their job is to ensure that decisions made by women with our doctors are carried out, not to impose their personal opinions from behind the counter,” Hogue said.

An American Pharmacists Association policy recognizes “the individual pharmacist's right to exercise conscientious refusal,” while also endorsing “the establishment of systems to ensure patients' access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist's right of conscientious refusal.”

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect