NEW YORK – A new bill was introduced Wednesday that would force U.S. pharmacists to distribute the controversial "morning-after pill," which was legalized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ten months ago.
Authored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), The Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act has upset pro-life activists who support a pharmacists' right to make moral decisions about whether or not to carry emergency contraception.
Bill supporters, meanwhile, say that it is a "woman's right."
"Pharmacists are professionals, not vending machines," argued Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America (CWA), in a statement. CWA is the nation's largest women's public policy organization.
"The FDA has been known to make mistakes in approving drugs, and doctors have made mistakes in prescribing," Wright added. "Pharmacists provide a line of defense to ensure that patients' lives and health are protected and can make patients aware of ethical concerns."
The "morning-after pill," also known as "Plan B," is an over-the-counter "emergency" contraceptive that individuals use after intercourse. The two-pill package blocks a fertilized egg from attaching itself to a woman's uterus, which leads to it being flushed from the body. Some pro-life groups argue that this is another form of abortion.
The ABC Act would force pharmacists, no matter what their moral standing, to stock and distribute the product in all circumstances. If the pharmacy has run out of the contraceptive, the pharmacist would be obligated to order a new shipment or advise the customer of another store that carried the product.
The bill was proposed after several pharmacists in the country refused to carry the product or refused service to interested buyers, which pro-choice advocates have called a "moral outrage."
"Access to birth control is a women's health issue, a private matter and a constitutional right," argued Maloney at a press conference. "No one – not pharmacists, politicians or religious leaders – should be able to tamper with that right."
If the bill passes into law, pharmacists found in violation would face fines of $5,000 per day of breach, which could go up to $500,000 if continuously ignored. Women who are denied the contraceptive can also sue the pharmacies in civil court for damages.
"[Pharmacists have] an obligation to serve women, provide them with access to medication," added Maloney. "It is about health care. It's about the basic right to birth control."
The bill was introduced a day before the 42nd anniversary of the Griswold v. Connecticut case, in which the Supreme Court overruled a state law which banned the sale of contraceptives even to married couples.
Besides moral implications of selling "Plan B," pharmacists have explained the health implications of the drug. Many refuse to sell the product, because it is dangerous for the women who take it.
"There are countless deaths of women from the birth control pill because it causes blood clots," said Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life International (PFLI), to the bill's author. "This is a person who doesn't know anything about the practice of pharmacy. It is a shame to have politicians regulating people with a complete lack of understanding."
Pharmacists have also expressed that many individuals would end up leaving the profession if the bill passed. The moral and monetary implications are more than enough to make pharmacists move on, and they expressed that the "real victims" will be the patients themselves. Pharmacists "are smart and we can get other jobs," according to Brauer.
"We need pharmacists with strong convictions about protecting life and health, but this bill would drive people with such convictions out of the pharmaceutical profession, which would be detrimental to all patients," concluded CWA's Wright. "This bill is promoted by ardent abortion activists yet it would criminalize 'Freedom of choice' by forcing people to act against their beliefs."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also introduced a similar bill in the Senate Wednesday.