Democratic Lawmakers Seek To Prevent Pharmacists From Refusing To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions

Even though Obamacare’s birth control rule helps expand access to affordable contraception, ongoing right-wing attacks on reproductive services still threaten to prevent women from accessing the birth control they need. Particularly since the U.S. still uses an outdated system of tying birth control prescriptions to annual check-ups — rather than joining most other countries around the world and making contraception available over the counter — some women run into roadblocks as they attempt to fill their prescriptions. But some Democratic lawmakers are hoping to change that with new legislation aimed at standardizing pharmacies’ procedures for dispensing birth control.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) are spearheading the “Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act,” the same bill they have attempted to get through previous legislative sessions. The politicians reintroduced their measure on Thursday, explaining that they hope to strengthen the birth control provision in the health care reform law by ensuring that pharmacists cannot obstruct women’s access to contraception:

“This legislation would prevent a pharmacy from interfering in the personal medical decisions made by a patient and her doctor,” Sen. Lautenberg said. “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. By guaranteeing that women can access birth control at every pharmacy in the country, we can ensure that women are never denied the right to make responsible decisions about their reproductive health.” […]

The Access to Birth Control (ABC) 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. The bill protects the right of individual pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription, but also ensures that pharmacies will fill all prescriptions, even if a different pharmacist has to do it. In addition, if the requested product is not in stock, but the pharmacy stocks other forms of contraception, the bill mandates that the pharmacy help the woman obtain the medication without delay by the method of her preference: order, referral, or a transferred prescription.

Some pharmacies have recently taken it upon themselves to update their contraception policies to ensure their employees won’t let their own attitudes about birth control prevent them from fulfilling their jobs. But, considering the fact that the National Women’s Law Center has tracked issues with pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions in at least 24 states across the country, the industry’s self-regulation isn’t enough.


Just seven states currently mandate that pharmacies must fill women’s birth control prescriptions — and on the other hand, some states like Kansas and Illinois actually allow pharmacists to deny contraception from women simply because of their own personal beliefs. The ABC Act would implement a national policy across all states to ensure that, in pharmacies ranging from national chains to local mom-and-pop stores, women will never have to worry about getting the reproductive services they need when they need them.