WASHINGTON – Rep. Carolyn Maloney,D-N.Y.,and Sen. Frank Lautenberg,D-N.J.,introduced legislation Wednesday guaranteeing a woman's access to birth control,including over-the-counter emergency contraception,without discrimination or delay.
Leading women's organizations,including the National Women's Law Center,the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Organization for Women assembled at an outdoor Capitol Hill rally to support the Access to Birth Control,or “ABC,” Bill.
“An American woman can decide to put her life on the line for our country in Iraq,but she can be prevented from making basic decisions about her own health care at home,” Maloney said.
The bill would make it illegal for a pharmacy to refuse to fill a birth control prescription or for a pharmacist to intimidate,threaten or intentionally breach medical confidentiality.
Maloney had no statistics but said there have been well-documented reports of pharmacists denying women birth control based on the pharmacists' moral and personal beliefs.
Maloney said this infringement of basic human rights cannot be tolerated. “Or what's next?” the congresswoman asked. “Denying people their cancer treatments or AIDS medications? Where do we draw the line?”
Carrie Baker,a married mother of two,is one of several women who have experienced the pharmaceutical industry's denial of birth control.
When Baker,42,tried to purchase emergency contraception from a Kroger grocery store near her home in Rome,Ga.,the pharmacist refused to sell her the medication,citing personal and religious objections.
After filing a complaint,Baker was supposed to be referred to a second pharmacy where she could purchase the contraception.
That never happened.
Baker said at the news conference that pharmacies' willingness to sell Viagra,a prescription drug for erectile dysfunction,and their refusal to sell birth control creates a “double standard.”
“It gives men more control over sexual activity,” Baker said. “Women deserve more respect than that.”
Leading pharmacy organizations,the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Pharmacists Association,do not dispute that pharmacists can deny someone treatment or medication due to their personal values. They declined to comment on the bill because they have not seen it.
ASHP,a national association representing 30,000 pharmacists,says in its mission statement that it recognizes “the right of pharmacists,as health care providers,and other pharmacy employees to decline to participate in therapies they consider to be morally,religiously,or ethically troubling.”
Kristina Lunner,APhA's senior director of government affairs,said,”We adopted a two-part policy which supports pharmacists' decisions to step away from situations that they find objectionable and that supports systems be in place that assure that patients have access to their medication.”
“We say it's OK for pharmacists to step away,but it's not OK for pharmacists to step in the way,” she added.
Wearing bright pink T-shirts,picketers from Planned Parenthood Federation,a sexual and reproductive health care advocate and provider,also lent their support to the bill. They held signs that read: “It's your choice … not theirs” and “It's about health and safety.”
“It is 2007,” Cecile Richards,president of Planned Parenthood,said. “Any woman should be able to walk into any pharmacy,anywhere in the country and get birth control.”
Richards said that birth control is especially important “when a condom breaks,a pill is forgotten or when a woman is a victim of sexual assault.”
Rep. Christopher Shays,R-Conn.,a cosponsor of the bill,was adamant in his commitment to women's health care.
“I view this bill as being about preventing pregnancy,not ending pregnancy,” Shays said. “It is unacceptable for a pharmacist to withhold any safe,legal medication,and it is time to put an end to this abuse of trust.”
Access to birth control and emergency contraception is particularly important for women who live in rural areas,where few pharmacies exist,and for low-income women who have limited transportation,the bills' sponsors said.
“No woman should have to experience the indignity of a pharmacist telling her that her choice is wrong or inappropriate,” Judy Waxman,vice president and director of health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center,said.
“With this bill,every woman who goes into a pharmacy for contraception will leave with her medication in hand and her dignity intact.”