On September 30, 2005, a pharmacist at a Target store in Fenton, MO, denied a twenty-six-year-old woman emergency contraception. Yes, you read correctly—DENIED. Excuse me, but who the hell does this Target pharmacist think he is? Does the Target handbook state:
“Dear new employee, if you don’t agree with a customer’s purchase, be it high-waisted slacks, a high-calorie chocolate bar, or birth control, please feel free to exercise your authority as a Target employee and deny the purchase. After all, you know what’s right.”
For a company that positions itself as modern and progressive, this is a very archaic decision. Target seems to have gone out of its way to create a modern experience for the modern person, yet what is modern about refusing to fill a woman’s prescription? Target pharmacists stand mighty in their red smocks with a white bullseye and think they’re equipped to make decisions about a woman’s right to emergency contraception just because they have a degree in pharmacology. Is this right? ABSOLUTELY NOT. They have no idea if the woman in question has just been violated, if a condom broke, or what constituted the emergency. Why? Because it’s none of their business and that should never dictate them doing their job.
A woman trying to take control of her actions deserves credit, not criticism. Even Wal-Mart, the consumer behemoth accused of unfair labor practices, has signed onto Planned Parenthood’s pharmacy policy on emergency contraception. This means Wal-Mart will provide the emergency contraception pills in-store, without delay. According to Planned Parenthood’s Web site, in the past Wal-Mart pharmacies were notorious for not stocking Plan B or refusing to provide it. With no corporate policy in place, pharmacists were not held accountable for their actions. Now, this has changed. As much as it pains me to say it, thank you, Wal-Mart. Catch up Target!
Nothing gets me fired up more than when the government is allowed to pass judgment and deny women their rights. It’s happening more and more, and pharmacists at several major drug store chains are allowed to decide for themselves whether or not a woman is allowed to purchase Plan B, a form of emergency contraception.
Let me back up a minute. Plan B was approved by the FDA on August 24, 2006 to be used as an over-the-counter form of emergency contraception (EC) for women eighteen and over. Plan B contains levongestrol, a hormone found in many birth control pills. The difference between Plan B and your everyday oral contraceptive is that it has a higher dose of levongestrol than what is found in a single birth control pill. If taken within seventy-two hours of unprotected sex, Plan B will decrease the chances of pregnancy by 89 percent. Taken within twenty-four hours of unprotected sex, it will decrease your chances of pregnancy by 94 percent. You can see then why it’s necessary to be allowed immediate access to purchasing Plan B—time is of the essence. But, large chain stores such as Target, Winn-Dixie, and Walgreen’s currently allow their pharmacists to refuse to sell Plan B to customers, based on their personal moral beliefs. Not surprisingly, this decision is being supported by pro-life organizations like Pharmacists for Life International and American Life League. I should add that these pharmacists, if they deny a prescription, must refer the customers to someone who will fill and/or sell EC. But, this forces even more inconvenience on the woman. It’s unsettling and even worse, unfair.
In April 2006, a forty-two year-old woman wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about her experience being denied EC. The woman is married, has two children, and lives in Virginia (a state that allows pharmacists to refuse Plan B if it conflicts with their beliefs)—basically your typical American family. Both she and her husband have successful, busy jobs, and couldn’t find enough time to spend with their children, much less each other. Caught up in a stolen moment of passion with her husband, the woman failed to insert her diaphragm. The next morning she called her Ob/Gyn to get a prescription for Plan B, only to find out that her Ob/Gyn didn’t prescribe it. Neither did any of her other doctors. Her seventy-two hour window to take Plan B was dwindling. After exhausting her options, she decided to wait and see what would happen, assuming that being over forty, her chances of becoming pregnant were slim. Sure enough, two weeks later, she learned she was pregnant and was forced to make a decision to have an abortion.
This woman could have been any of us. She’s not an irresponsible teenager, or a sexual-abuse victim, or any other one of the unfortunate stereotypes that are pointed to when discussing emergency contraception. And therein lies the point. An emergency can happen to any of us, and that’s why all of us need to protect, preserve, and stand up for the right to purchase emergency contraception immediately. Teens, young adults, sexual abuse victims, mothers, girlfriends—we are all equal opportunity targets for an emergency situation.
So what can you do? Well, since 2006, nearly half the states have introduced legislation that will allow pharmacists to deny emergency contraception based on moral or religious objections, so you can write your local representative and ask them what they are doing to keep immediate access to emergency contraception protected. You can ask your neighborhood pharmacist if they provide EC without delay, and thank them if they do. You can visit Planned Parenthood’s Web site and sign up to survey a neighborhood pharmacy to ensure that every woman in every city in every neighborhood in America has access to emergency contraception. You can donate to non-profit organizations like Planned Parenthood so that they can continue their fight against lawmakers that are determined to make EC illegal and unavailable. You can learn all you can about EC and educate those around you. You can be a part of the journey to create and support laws that provide women their deserved rights.
[Note: After the writing of this article, I learned that Washington State passed a law that stated pharmacists could not stand in the way of filling EC pills for women! Score one for the ladies!]
Plan B Web site