Pharmacies Begin Selling Morning After Pill This Week, Debate Continues

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pharmacies Begin Selling Morning After Pill This Week, Debate Continues Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 15
, 2006

Staten Island, NY ( — Pharmacies across the country will begin selling the morning after pill this week, but the debate about the Plan B drug continues. Some independent pharmacies have opted not to carry it and pro-life pharmacists must decide whether they will dispense the drug and violate their moral or religious views.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for the 13 Staten Island CVS pharmacies says the company has received its shipment of pills and is almost ready to sell them.

"We started getting supplies last week," he told the Advance newspaper. "We expect all stores to have it by the end of the week."

The cost of the drug is expected to range from $40 to $70, but the Staten Island health department wants to make sure all women have access to the drug so it is offering the Plan B pills free of charge to poor women, including girls under the age of 18.

However, FDA requirements for the morning after pill stipulate that it can only be sold to someone over 18 and that teenagers must still get a prescription from a physician.

Not everyone is happy about the over the counter sales of the morning after pill.

Joe Knisley, pharmacist at West Towne Pharmacy on West Market Street in Johnson City, Tennessee is one pharmacist who says he’s not going to carry it.

"I’m just morally opposed to it," Knisley told the Times News. "I feel strongly about the sanctity of human life, and I think this is diametrically opposed to that. I just don’t feel comfortable in stocking a medicine when I know what it’s going to be used for. Therefore we will not carry it."

Meanwhile, Dawn Fields, a pharmacy technician at Walgreens in Kingsport, Tennessee, says she’s concerned about her job if she refuses to dispense the Plan B drug.

"I don’t agree with it myself, but if they (customers) want it and we have it, Walgreens would probably frown on us if we didn’t sell it," she said.

"I don’t agree with abortions in any sense. I mean, it’s a kid. At least give it a chance," Fields added.

Fields, who is pregnant, is worried because pharmacists at a Walgreens in Illinois have been fired for refusing to dispense the drug there. They have sued the company and the state of Illinois where Gov. Rod Blagojevich put in place a rule forcing pharmacists to dispense the drug.

Whether there will be sufficient demand for the drug is another question.

Barry Walton, pharmacist at Mac’s Medicine Mart in Johnson City, Tennessee, said he carried the drug when it was prescription-only and that his store lost money because so few people bought them.

"What I had went out of date without any demand for it. Now if it’s going to be over-the-counter, we might stock one. But it’s not going to be a huge display," Walton told the newspaper.

On August 23, the FDA announced its decision to make Plan B available over the counter without a prescription.

Though teenagers will still need to get a prescription to use it, pro-life groups are worried that a teen’s parents, siblings or older friends will purchase the drug for them to use.

Because of the change to over the counter status, insurance plans will no longer cover the morning after pill unless the consumer first gets a prescription from a doctor.

Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Dakota have laws that specifically allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs like the morning after pill and other state legislatures may consider similar conscience clauses next year.

Some companies, like Wal-Mart, may be forced to examine their corporate policies, though the largest retailer already has a "conscientious objection policy" to allow pharmacists to refer customers to someone else if they don’t want to be involved in selling the morning after pill.

Marcia Greenberger, copresident of the pro-abortion National Women’s Law Center, says her group is concerned that pharmacists will want to opt-out of selling the drugs.

Groups like hers may push for more laws like those in California and Illinois that force pharmacists to dispense all drugs, even those that violate their moral beliefs.

Pro-abortion groups claim the Plan B drug will reduce the number of abortions, but a Utah doctor who was a member of a Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel says that’s not the case. He also indicated that the Plan B drug can work as an abortion agent in certain circumstances.

Dr. Joseph Stanford, associate professor of family and preventative medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said the morning after pill won’t be as effective as its maker claims.

He told the Deseret News that studies he and fellow researchers have done show a lower effectiveness rate than the 89 percent Barr Laboratories claims.

"We did more a precise meta-analysis that shows it’s effective only 72 percent of the time, and even that number is optimistic," he indicated.

He also told the newspaper that studies from Europe, China and the United States show that the morning after pill does not reduce abortions. In fact, new abortion figures in England and Scotland show that abortions have reached their highest point ever despite over the counter sales of Plan B.

"In all cases, they found there was no effect on abortion rates and unintended pregnancy rates," he says.

Meanwhile, abortion advocates have filed a lawsuit seeking to get the courts to allow the morning after pill to be sold to them as well.