Access to Birth Control Under Attack


That's right. In 2007, forty-two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting a person's right to privacy, women are still struggling to access the pill and make their own health decisions.

In 2007, an American woman can decide to put her life on the line for our country in Iraq, but she can be prevented from making her own basic health decisions here at home.

In 2007, pharmacists are refusing to fill birth control prescriptions. It's happening in red states and in blue states. It's happening to married women and to single women, to women with children and to women without. Some pharmacists have refused to transfer birth control prescriptions to another more accommodating pharmacy; others have even refused to give the prescription slip back to the customer.

In 2007, women are leaving pharmacies without their pills and without their dignity, having been ridiculed and lectured about their reproductive choice.

Take the Columbus, Ohio 23-year-old mother who sought non-prescription emergency contraceptives from a local pharmacy. The pharmacist on staff "shook his head and laughed" at her. The woman was told that even though the store stocked EC, no one on staff would give it to her. She had to drive 45 miles to find another pharmacy that would provide her with the contraceptive.

Or the Northern California, married parents of a newborn who experienced a contraceptive failure. At the time, emergency contraception had not yet been approved for over-the-counter sales, so the woman's physician called in a prescription on her behalf. The pharmacist on duty refused to dispense the medication, and refused to enter the prescription into the pharmacy's computer so it could be transferred to another pharmacy.

Besides the obvious inconvenience, why should these stories—or the countless others just like them—matter? Because a woman's likelihood of becoming pregnant increases the longer she waits to take emergency contraception. And even one missed or late birth control pill can put a woman at an increased risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

Women who live in rural areas are at an even greater disadvantage when they're denied contraception because they may not have another pharmacy near them to go to. And low-income women may not have transportation, or the additional time or money needed to track down a cooperative pharmacy.

Pharmacies should not be allowed to take the place of doctors and deny women their medication. Pharmacies have the obligation to serve women and provide them with access to medication.

The public agrees. In a recent poll, eight in 10 Americans said that pharmacists who personally oppose birth control should not be able to refuse to sell oral contraceptives to women.

I introduced the "Access to Birth Control," or "ABC" Act, to ensure that any woman who wants birth control is able to get it in a timely and convenient manner.

Under my bill, if a pharmacist on duty refuses to fill a woman's birth control prescription—this includes emergency contraception prescriptions—then the pharmacy must ensure that another employee on staff fills the prescription without delay. If the pharmacy does not have the requested birth control in stock and it normally stocks other forms of contraception, the pharmacy must either locate another pharmacy of the customer's choice or a nearby pharmacy that has the birth control in stock, and refer the patient or transfer the prescription. If the customer prefers, the pharmacy can order the item using the standard expedited procedure for ordering medication.

My bill would also make it illegal for a pharmacist to refuse to return a birth control prescription, or for a pharmacist to intimidate, threaten, or harass customers, or intentionally breach, or threaten to breach, medical confidentiality.

Access to birth control is a women's health issue, a private matter and a constitutional right. It should not be tampered with by pharmacists, politicians, or anyone else.

U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY)

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