Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Prohibit Pharmacists From Refusing To Fill Birth Control For Religious Or Moral Reasons

The right-wing campaign against women’s rights is leaping past the traditional bounds of abortion rights and targeting a woman’s access to birth control. Around 11 million women use a method of birth control. And yet, Republicans are not only standing against federal funding for contraception, but are trying to redefine life as beginning at the moment of fertilization — effectively turning many forms of birth control “into the legal equivalent of a homicide.” Last week, Democratic lawmakers Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY) introduced a bill to protect women against another method of infringement that conservatives are pushing: pharmacies’ refusals to fill birth control prescriptions.

In effort to help ensure the Obama administration’s requirement that insurance plans cover birth control without co-payments, Lautenberg and Maloney are supporting the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act which would make it illegal for a pharmacy to refuse to fill birth control prescription or “interfere with or obstruct the delivery” of contraceptives:

The pharmacy shall ensure that its employees do not–

(A) intimidate, threaten, or harass customers in the delivery of services relating to a request for contraception;

(B) interfere with or obstruct the delivery of services relating to a request for contraception;

(C) intentionally misrepresent or deceive customers about the availability of contraception or its mechanism of action;

(D) breach medical confidentiality with respect to a request for contraception or threaten to breach such confidentiality; or

(E) refuse to return a valid, lawful prescription for contraception upon customer request.

If a pharmacy violates these requirements, it is liable for a civil penalty of up to $500,000.

As the National Women’s Law Center details, pharmacist refusals are not a theoretical problem. Pharmacists have refused to dispense prescription contraceptives or emergency contraception in at least 24 states. All the pharmacists who refused to deliver services based their objection “on personal beliefs, not legitimate medical or professional concerns” and even refused “to transfer a woman’s prescription to another pharmacist or to refer her to another pharmacy.” The ABC act would make it illegal to deny a referral.

Rather than penalizing pharmacies for refusing to assist women, many state statutes actually protect that behavior. Seven states prohibit outright obstruction of patient access to medication but allow pharmacist refusals. Six states have laws or regulations that specifically allow refusals without a requirement to refer or transfer prescriptions. And in 2011, Indiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania pushed three bills that would permit refusals to dispense birth control “without protecting patient access.”

In pushing the ABC Act, Lautenberg stated that “birth control is basic health care for women.” “By guaranteeing access to birth control, we can ensure that women are never denied the right to make responsible decisions about their reproductive health,” he said. As Maloney points out, “Nearly 8 out of 10 Americans believe that a pharmacist should be required to fill prescriptions for birth control, even if they have a religious objection.”

As one New Jersey young woman put it, “I’m not going to a pharmacy to be judged…The doctors are the ones that should be asking questions, not the pharmacist.”