Associated Press, January 16, 2007

Pharmacist denies couple morning-after pill

A woman has complained to the governor and an abortion rights group about Wal-Mart workers who wouldn't give her morning-after contraceptive pills that don't require a prescription.

Tashina Byrd, 23, of Springfield, said the pharmacist "shook his head and laughed" when a pharmacy attendant asked this month about giving the woman and her boyfriend Plan B. The hormone pills can help prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

The attendant told Byrd and her boyfriend, Brian O'Neill, 37, of Columbus, that the store stocked Plan B but nobody would give it to them, the couple told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Monday.

Byrd wrote Gov. Ted Strickland and contacted NARAL Pro-Choice America and Wal-Mart Watch, an activist group that seeks to change the retailer's practices.

"I could go to church if I wanted to be told how to live my life," said Byrd, who ended up getting the pills from a CVS pharmacist in Springfield, about 45 miles west of Columbus.

The Food and Drug Administration decided in August to allow nonprescription sales of Plan B emergency contraceptive pills to women. Because those under 18 still need a prescription, pharmacies stock morning-after pills behind the counter and check identification.

NARAL, which fights for reproductive rights, is pushing pharmacies to stock Plan B and to write policies ensuring that it will be made available.

"There's a duty to dispense ... without delay, without any kind of harassment," said Nancy Keenan, NARAL president.

Legislatures have considered measures to either increase access or protect pharmacists who refuse to dispense certain drugs.

Strickland has no specific plans but "does not believe (pharmacists) should be engaging in that kind of behavior," spokesman Keith Dailey said, referring to what happened at the Springfield Wal-Mart.

Brent Beams, the pharmacist, told The Dispatch that he denied the couple's request for the contraceptive pills because he believes "in preserving life, and I do not believe in ending life, and life begins at conception."

After the pharmacist turned them down, O'Neill and Byrd asked for a store manager who "came over and said, 'The pharmacist has the law on his side,'" O'Neill said.

Wal-Mart is investigating, corporate spokesman Kevin Gardner said. Corporate policy says any Wal-Mart worker who does not feel comfortable dispensing a product can refer customers to another pharmacist, pharmacy worker or sales associate.

Ernie Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association, said pharmacists who refuse to dispense a nonprescription drug might be basing their decision on a moral objection.

"The right or wrong of it is still to be determined," said Boyd, whose group has not taken a formal position on the issue.

The association would fight any sweeping legislative proposal to require pharmacists to fill prescriptions no matter what because it would hurt their ability to catch mistakes and prevent possible adverse drug interactions, Boyd said.

<< Assoicated Press -- 1/16/07 >>

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