On 40th Anniversary of Supreme Court Birth Control Decision, Some Women Have Seen Their Rights Vanish

Jun 7, 2005
Press Release

 Reps. Maloney, Shays, Wasserman Schultz and Crowley have introduced legislation to guarantee all legal prescriptions are filled.

 WASHINGTON, DC - On the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that affirmed that the Constitution protects a privacy right to use birth control, Members of Congress and leading organizations stood together to celebrate the anniversary and to warn about new efforts to undermine this right. Griswold v. Connecticut may be 40 years old today, but the issues it resolved have risen anew in 21st century America.


Recently, pharmacists with personal objections to birth control have imposed their beliefs on customers by refusing to fill perfectly legal birth control prescriptions and, in some cases, also refusing to return the prescription slip to the customers. In the House of Representatives, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) have introduced the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act, which would guarantee pharmacies fill all legal prescriptions (https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/documents/olddocs/choice/ALPhAPacket.pdf). The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

“It’s amazing that in 2005, in the Land of the Free, women have found their right to access birth control challenged,” said Rep. Maloney. “The Supreme Court decision made 40 years ago today should have removed all doubt and worry over whether women can get the birth control pill. It is important to remind all Americans today that the right to use birth control is the law of the land.”

“It is unfathomable to me that forty years after women won the constitutional right to birth control, pharmacists would take a woman's ability to control her reproductive health into their own hands,” said Rep. Shays. “We need to put an end to this abuse of trust and stop the increasingly-common practice of withholding safe, legal medication.”

“Make no mistake about this, the refusal to fill birth control prescriptions goes against the spirit of Griswold v. Connecticut, attacking women’s privacy and primary choice of contraceptive,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz. “To put it plainly, if pharmacists were refusing to sell men condoms this issue would have already been addressed by Congress. Our legislation will require the pharmacies -the businesses employing the pharmacists- to provide a woman with access to legal forms of birth control.”

“Today represents more than just the 40th Anniversary of Griswold vs. Connecticut, and more than just the importance of preserving access to legal pharmaceuticals like birth control,” said Rep. Crowley. “It represents forty years of true equal healthcare rights for women in the United States and the right of women to space and plan their pregnancies and raise healthy and successful children.”

“Forty years after Griswold, American women face a growing threat to their right to privacy. The radical right is looking to make the pharmacy the next battleground in their assault on personal privacy. We salute those in Congress who want to make sure that we will be able to commemorate the constitutional protections of Griswold when the landmark decision turns 50, 100 and beyond,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which issued States of Denial: 40 Years After Griswold v. Connecticut Privacy and Birth Control At Risk Once Again, a report on the growing trend of pharmacists denying women their birth control prescriptions.

“Perhaps more than any other ruling, Griswold gave American women the ability to participate as equal partners in our society,” said Karen Pearl, Interim President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “40 years later, the vast majority of American women use contraception at some point in their lives -- yet many are still being denied access to birth control. Women's health must come first. The Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act is a fair and reasonable bill that requires each and every customer at a pharmacy to be treated the same as any other. This bipartisan bill affirms that all of us should be able to have our prescriptions filled without delay, and that none of us should be humiliated or sent away empty handed because of the personal biases of the pharmacist on duty.

According to Judith M. DeSarno, President and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, “Contraception is part of the most basic health care for women. Eighty-eight percent of voters, including four in five Republicans, support women’s access to contraception. And eighty-six percent support Title X, the government public health program that funds state and local family planning agencies that provide contraception to low income women. Despite this support, obstacles to universal access to contraception continue to be erected by Congress, pharmacies, insurance companies, and right wing political groups.”

“Forty years after the Supreme Court proclaimed a woman’s right to use birth control, women should not be fighting to have their contraceptive prescriptions filled at the pharmacy,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center. “Contraceptives are a crucial part of women’s basic health care. The Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act is a much-needed solution to the very real problem of women being denied contraception in the pharmacy.”


Background on Griswold v. Connecticut
June 7, 2005 marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, which invalidated a state law prohibiting the use of contraception. Griswold was the first case to recognize a constitutional right to privacy that encompassed the decision to use contraception.

This landmark decision secured the right of married women to use contraception, and opened the doors for a series of Supreme Court cases that broadened the rights of access to birth control and birth control information for all Americans, including unmarried persons and minors. Griswold laid the groundwork for widespread access to birth control for all American women.

Background on the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act
ALPhA protects an individual’s access to legal contraception by requiring that if a pharmacist has a personal objection to filling a legal prescription for a drug or device, the pharmacy will be required to ensure that the prescription is filled by another pharmacist employed by the pharmacy who does not have a personal objection.

Pharmacists would not be able to prevent or deter an individual from filling a legal prescription for medicines or devices. Refusing to return or transfer a prescription is prohibited under ALPhA. The pharmacist would not be able to harass, humiliate, or intentionally breach the confidentiality of the individual attempting to fill the prescription for birth control.

The prescription would have to be filled without delay, and in a time frame consistent with the amount of time it would take the pharmacy to fill a prescription that is not personally objectionable to the pharmacist. Example: If it takes a pharmacy one hour to fill prescriptions for diabetes medication, it should take no more than one hour to fill a prescription for birth control.

If the pharmacy ordinarily stocks prescription contraception, this legislation provides that if an individual attempts to fill a prescription for a certain type of contraception, and that contraception is not in stock, the pharmacy must order (if the individual so requests) that prescription for that individual. ALPhA does not require that a pharmacy that stocks some types of prescription contraception stock all types all the time. If it does stock some types of prescription birth control, then it must order a type it doesn’t ordinarily stock for an individual who requests that type of prescription birth control.