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CFFC in the News - 2005
Analysis: Contraceptive Rx Ordered Filled
4 April 2005
Chicago, IL — Reproductive-rights groups praised Gov. Rod Blagojevich for issuing an emergency order barring Illinois druggists from refusing to dispense birth control to women seeking contraceptives, but his decision is not without controversy.
Blagojevich, a leader in national efforts to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve prescription-drug imports from Canada and Europe, took the action Friday after state officials received complaints that a licensed pharmacist at an Osco Drug store in Chicago twice refused to fill prescriptions for "morning after" birth-control pills.
Similar refusals have occurred in about a dozen states, including California, Wisconsin, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Missouri, but a court has never decided whether pharmacists are covered by Illinois' Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which allows medical professionals to opt out of an area of medical practice they are uncomfortable with.
The governor's emergency order requires compliance for 150 days while public hearings are held on making the rule permanent.
"Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy is not allowed to discriminate who they sell to and who they don't," Blagojevich said. "The pharmacy will be expected to accept that prescription and fill it in the same way, and in the same period of time they would fill any other prescription. No delays. No hassles. No lecture. Just fill the prescription."
Blagojevich was criticized at a Sunday Catholic church service.
"Mr. Governor, out of respect for Pope John Paul II, please respect his wishes," Bishop Thomas Paprocki told Blagojevich as he sat in a pew near the front of St. Hyacinth's Basilica, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. "Please rescind your order. Let our pharmacists be free to follow their faith."
There's a growing movement among some pharmacists for so-called conscience clauses that would give them the legal right to refuse to fill prescriptions for things like birth control if doing so violated their moral, religious or personal beliefs. The emergency rule does not require all drugstores to sell contraceptives. Pharmacies in Catholic hospitals do not stock birth-control medicines.
Legislatures in at least 11 states are considering measures giving pharmacists the right to refuse to dispense medicines.
In the Illinois case two women were denied emergency contraceptives Feb. 23 by pharmacist at their local drugstore in Chicago's South Loop. The female pharmacist told them by telephone, "I don't fill those." Jewel-Osco said she followed state law and company policy.
However, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation filed a complaint against the pharmacy for failing to provide appropriate pharmaceutical care for a patient and unprofessional conduct for not having an appropriate procedure to dispense contraceptive prescriptions.
"Unfortunately, this story is not unique to Chicago or Illinois. Cases like this have been popping up all over the country," the governor said. "It's happened in Wisconsin, Texas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, California, and in other states around the country."
Blagojevich said he felt the denial of service was a concerted effort by activists and not coincidence.
Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and South Dakota give pharmacists the right to decide whether to fill a prescription for non-medical reasons.
A group called Pharmacists for Life International supports "conscience clause" laws to protect pharmacists from disciplinary action if they refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives.
"I don't think these are the only two times this has ever happened in Illinois," Blagojevich said. "My guess is it's happened a lot more than we know." He announced a new toll-free number at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for pharmacy complaints.
While Illinois' 2003 Contraceptive Equity in Health Insurance Act requires private health-insurance companies that cover prescription drugs to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices, some pharmacists feel they should have the right as medical practitioners to opt out.
The American Pharmacists Association, which represents 52,000 pharmacists, backs the right of pharmacists to not dispense a particular drug so long as it is available to patients from other sources or another pharmacist.
"The governor's so-called 'emergency rule' tramples the religious liberty of pharmacists and smacks of the worst type of religious bigotry," said Nikolas T. Nikas, general counsel of Chicago-based Americans United for Life, a public-interest bioethics law firm. "The so-called right to choose has become the right to coerce violations of one's conscience."
Some feel hormones in certain contraceptives cause a form of abortion by halting the implantation of a human embryo.
The FDA approved oral contraceptive for sale 45 years ago, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled married couples had the right to obtain contraceptives from licensed physicians 40 years ago.
Abortion-rights activists said pharmacists who deny women birth control cause unintended pregnancies.
"It's a clear indicator that what was once seen as an anti-abortion movement has become a broad-based, anti-family-planning movement, and very troubling," Francis Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, told National Public Radio. "For example, some pharmacists say they believe it is immoral for unmarried people to have sex and therefore they will not fill birth-control prescriptions for unmarried women."
Illinois' emergency rule requires pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill prescriptions with no delay -- and if the prescribed contraceptive or a suitable alternative is not in stock the pharmacy must order it or transfer the prescription to another local pharmacy of the patient's choice.
"Contraceptive drugs lawfully prescribed by a physician should be available to anyone with a valid prescription without delay or other interference," said Dr. Carolyn A. Webber, president of the American Medical Women's Association.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Women's Law Center, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups praised the governor for bringing the issue of access to contraception to the national debate.
"Women need to know that pharmacists do not have the right to refuse to dispense prescription medication and we commend Governor Blagojevich for his leadership on this issue," said Karen Pearl, Planned Parenthood's interim president.
"If a woman and her doctor have already discussed the need for contraception, she should be able to walk into any pharmacy in America and expect to have her prescription filled without unnecessary delays or discrimination. Women should never be denied basic healthcare services by pharmacists who choose to impose their own beliefs on others."
This article courtesy of UPI.