FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK - In a complaint filed on behalf of a health care provider at Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, the New York Civil Liberties Union today charged that a Rite Aid pharmacist who refused to fill a patient's prescription for refill doses of Emergency Contraception ("EC") should be disciplined by the New York State Board of Pharmacy for putting moralistic judgments before her professional responsibilities. This is the second complaint filed against the Rite Aid pharmacist.
"That this pharmacist refused to fill a refill for a second time in one year shows that she has a serious problem in fulfilling her professional obligations," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "This pharmacist obstructed a patient's access to medication based on her own uninformed and biased opinions about that patient's sexual activity."
The NYCLU filed two similar complaints in August 2006, one of them against the same Rite Aid pharmacist after a similar incident with another customer. A companion complaint was filed against two additional pharmacists at a CVS in Saratoga Springs. Each of the three complaints was filed on behalf of a Planned Parenthood provider who had prescribed EC, also known as the "morning after pill" or "Plan B," to a woman who was his or her patient. When those women went to their local pharmacies to fill the prescriptions, the pharmacists filled the initial prescriptions but refused to recognize the refills that the providers had authorized. The pharmacists refused to honor the prescription refills not because of medical or religious principles but simply because they objected to the idea that a woman might need EC more than once, said the NYCLU.
EC consists of a concentrated dose of hormonal contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy after an act of unprotected sexual intercourse, including sexual assault and intercourse where the contraceptive used failed. Studies have shown that EC is safe and effective, that there is no risk of taking it on more than one occasion, and that having access to the drug does not cause an increase in sexual risk-taking behaviors. EC does not cause an abortion or interfere with an established pregnancy.
"Writing EC prescriptions with refills is the standard of care," said Dr. Marc Heller, medical director of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, a licensed physician and board certified obstetrician and gynecologist.
Because women often need EC on evenings and weekends, when doctors' offices and clinics are closed, providers give women advance prescriptions so that they will be able to take the drug within the necessary timeframe. Major medical associations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women's Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that health care providers offer EC prescriptions during routine medical visits in order to provide patients with advance access.
"Pharmacists are authorized to alter prescriptions based on health concerns, such as potentially harmful drug interactions - but they don't get to make the ultimate decision about whether patients deserve the drugs they have been prescribed," said Galen Sherwin, an attorney with the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project. "Pharmacists should be guided by sound medicine, not moralistic judgments."
The complaints were filed with the New York State Office of the Professions, which has the authority to discipline licensed pharmacists. The complaints charge that the pharmacists exceeded the scope of their authority, breached their duty of care to the patients, and committed professional misconduct under the Board of Regents prohibition against "abandoning or neglecting a patient or client under and in need of immediate professional care, without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of such care." The complaints also assert that failure to fill prescriptions for EC constitutes sex discrimination in violation of New York's Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Yesterday, the ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced that Wal-Mart has issued a new policy requiring its pharmacies to satisfy valid requests for birth control, including emergency contraception. The policy shift came in response to Planned Parenthood's "Fill My Pills Now!" campaign, in which the ACLU of Florida participated. -Today's complaint is online at: www.nyclu.org/pdfs/rrp_ec_otc_040507.pdf
For more information on the 2006 complaints, go to: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/contraception/26469prs20060815.html