Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Ensure Pharmacies Fill All Dr. Prescriptions

Apr 14, 2005
Press Release

 WASHINGTON, DC - During an outdoor rally today on Capitol Hill, United States Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) and other lawmakers and supporters introduced legislation to STOP pharmacies from denying the sale of physician prescribed prescription medications because of their employees religious beliefs.  

A number of women around the country have recently been denied important family planning prescriptions by individual pharmacists who were personally against them. Representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood of America and the National Women’s Law Center also spoke during the event.

Recent news reports have documented pharmacists with particular religious or individual beliefs refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control. Now there is action in both the U.S. Senate and House to guarantee that every customer will have their legal prescriptions filled - including women who have prescriptions for birth control. The Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act (ALPhA) would protect the right of individual pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription, but would also ensure that pharmacies will fill all prescriptions, even if it a different pharmacist has to do it.

Individual pharmacists across the country have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control and have even refused to return prescription slips to customers. One woman in Texas who was a victim of rape was prescribed the Morning After pill by her physician, but later denied the prescription by a pharmacist.

"A pharmacist’s personal beliefs should not come between a patient and their doctor,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Tomorrow it might be painkillers for a cancer patient. Next year it could be medicine that prolongs the life of a person with AIDS or some other terminal disease."

"Around the country, women are walking into pharmacies with legal prescriptions to be filled and walking out with nothing. That's not what should happen when you go to a drug store," said Maloney. "If a doctor gives you a legal prescription, no one should be able to stop you from getting it filled - it's as simple as that. Access to birth control is a women's heath issue and a private matter, not to be tampered with by a pharmacist with an agenda."

"Make no mistake about this, the refusal to fill birth control prescriptions targets women and their choice of contraception, not men's," said Wasserman-Schultz. "I have no doubt that if pharmacists were refusing to sell men condoms that this issue would have already been addressed legislatively. Our legislation will require the pharmacies -the businesses employing the pharmacists- to provide a woman with access to legal forms of birth control."

"Pharmacists are health professionals whom we trust to fulfill their professional responsibilities to their patients,” said Shays. “It is unacceptable for a pharmacist to withhold any safe, legal medication and it is time to put an end to this abuse of trust."

"Today Senator Lautenberg, Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Shays sent a clear message that the basic health care needs of women are a priority," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America Interim President, Karen Pearl. "A pharmacy's policies cannot intrude on the relationship between a woman and her doctor. A pharmacy must dispense prescriptions issued by health care providers otherwise the patients' health is unnecessarily put at risk."

"Senator Lautenberg and Representative Maloney are standing up for common sense and personal responsibility against the growing movement urging pharmacists to impose far-right ideology on American women. It ought to be simple: walk into a pharmacy with a birth control prescription and walk out with birth control -- without intimidation, without inconvenience, and without delay. Pharmacies have an ethical and legal obligation not to endanger women's health by withholding basic health care. Like most Americans, Senator Lautenberg, Representative Maloney and Representative Wasserman-Schultz understand that personal responsibility and timely access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies and therefore reduces the need for abortion," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"Personal beliefs should never stand in the way of access to basic health care," said Judy Waxman, VP of Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center. “This bill would ensure that every woman can walk into her local pharmacy with a valid prescription and leave with her medication in hand and her dignity in tact."

ALPhA has been introduced today in the Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and in the House by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT ALPHA

Why do we need this Act?
An individual’s fundamental right of access to birth control is being attacked. Reports of some pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions have been documented in twelve states.1 The women who were denied were young and old; married and single; with children and without. Even women who were using birth control for other medical reasons aside from preventing conception have been denied access to the birth control pill. The Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act ensures timely access to contraception and is crucial to protecting a woman’s health and autonomy, and to keeping pharmacists and politicians out of personal, private matters.

Who does this bill protect?
The act 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.

What types of actions are prohibited?
Pharmacists cannot prevent or deter an individual from filling a legal prescription for drugs or devices. Refusing to return or transfer a prescription is prohibited under the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act. The pharmacist cannot harass, humiliate, or intentionally breach the confidentiality of the individual attempting to fill the prescription for birth control.

If a pharmacist objects to filling a prescription, when does it have to be filled?
The prescription must 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.

What if the pharmacy has decided not to stock prescription contraception. Does ALPhA require the pharmacy to stock prescription contraception?
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. The Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act does not require that a pharmacy that stocks some types of prescription contraception stock all types all the time. But 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.

Will the pharmacy have to order Emergency Contraception if there is none in stock?
If the pharmacy routinely stocks contraception, then a pharmacist who does not have a personal objection to the prescription must order, without delay, emergency contraception if the individual requests it be ordered after being informed the prescription is not in stock.

What are the penalties for violating the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act?
The pharmacy is subject to a private cause of action by the individual whose rights were violated, as well as civil penalties not to exceed $5,000 per day of violation, not exceeding $500,000 for all violations adjudicated in a single proceeding.

Who is supporting this legislation?
Members of Congress:
Senate: Sen. Lautenberg
House: Rep. Christopher Shays, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Rep. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. George Miller, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Rep. Luis Guitterez, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Jim Moran, Rep. Joseph Crowley, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Rep. Lois Capps. Rep. Jim McGovern

Organizations: NARAL, Planned Parenthood, National Women’s Law Center

Statistics
A November 2004 poll conducted by CBS and the NY Times indicated that 8 out of 10 Americans believe that pharmacists should not be permitted to refuse to dispense birth control pills. This opinion was strong despite party affiliation - 85% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans polled squarely opposed pharmacist refusals.

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