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Refusals at the Pharmacy

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April 18, 2007

We’ve all read the infuriating stories in the press from around the country about how some pharmacies are refusing to fill women’s prescriptions for contraception based on the pharmacy’s or an individual pharmacist’s religious objection. Denying women access to birth control , medication that only women use , is sex discrimination, and pharmacies have the responsibility to ensure that women are able to purchase birth control at their stores without added delay. Pharmacies should try to accommodate individual pharmacists with a religious objection so long as the pharmacy makes sure that women get their pills at the same pharmacy without added delay. This protects the health care needs of women and the religious freedom of individual pharmacy employees.

To address this problem, the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief just released a joint report, Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights: Accessing Birth Control at the Pharmacy. The report includes a legal backgrounder on the issue, the ACLU’s framework for analyzing religiously based refusals in the pharmacy, and concrete advocacy ideas.

Activists should take note: This is an area where you can make real strides in protecting birth control access for women in your communities. In response to women’s complaints from across the country , including complaints gathered by the ACLU of Florida , that Wal-Mart pharmacists were refusing to provide birth control, earlier this month Wal-Mart changed its nationwide corporate policy to require all of its pharmacy counters to satisfy women’s requests. Activists in Washington State just celebrated a victory when its state pharmacy board issued regulations that require pharmacies across the state to satisfy all lawful requests for medication, including birth control, in a timely manner.

If you or someone you know faces a refusal at your local pharmacy, there is something that can be done about it. There are pharmacy boards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that have complaint procedures for consumers who are treated unfairly by their pharmacist or pharmacy. The person who faced the refusal in the pharmacy can file a complaint and the pharmacist or pharmacy may be disciplined for acting unprofessionally, like the Wisconsin pharmacist who not only refused to refill a woman’s prescription for birth control, but refused to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy at the woman’s request.

Access to safe and effective contraception is a critical component of basic health care for women. The refusals of pharmacies , state-regulated businesses with the responsibility to supply medication to their patients , should not be tolerated.

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