Wal-Mart To Begin Stocking Morning-After Pill

Wal-Mart, finally caving to opposition, will start selling the Plan B morning-after pill at its pharmacies across the nation this week. The decision comes after the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board determined that Wal-Mart was required to sell the pill in its 44 Massachusetts pharmacies, after a similar ruling in Illinois.

However, Wal-Mart’s critics still aren’t happy with the way they’re handling the distribution of the morning-after pill. Wal-Mart has decided to make whether or not a pharmacist will dispense it up to the moral beliefs of the pharmacist in question. If he refuses to dispense it, he is to advise patients to a local pharmacy that will supply it to them. Critics claim that since Wal-Mart has driven so many small pharmacies out of business, some people have “no choice” but to go to Wal-Mart for the Plan-B pill.

We’re skeptical of that. Are there really no other pharmacies within driving distance of Wal-Mart’s all-consuming maw? Also, there does seem to be something reasonable about not forcing a pharmacist who believes strongly that abortion is wrong into dispensing what he would consider to be an abortion pill. This pill, after all, has moral connotations that no other medication really has. Conscience clauses are legally provided to pharmacists in a large number of states, which seems to indicate that Wal-Mart simply couldn’t legally force pharmacists to distribute a medication when it violates their moral or religious beliefs. On the other hand, should pharmacists really have the power to refuse treatment that a doctor has prescribed?

Wal-Mart to Begin Dispensing “Morning After” Pill This Week [Consumer Affairs]

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  1. ExVee says:

    I’m sorry, but no matter how pervasive Wal-Mart is or becomes, there’s still going to be a Walgreens on every corner in this country, and in many places, it’ll likewise be flanked by Eckerd and CVS at the very least. There is no failing of alternatives to a Wal-Mart pharmacy in essentially any town that’s big enough to have a Wal-Mart in the first place.

    A grocery store, Osco, even K-Mart. There *are* less morally inclined alternatives, even if they’re not mom and pop style local pharmacies. Those still tend to exist even within Wal-Mart’s sphere of influence, by the way.

  2. DeeJayQueue says:

    Yeah, and odds are at a family-owned old fashioned style drug store you’d probably find even more moral opposition.

  3. LTS! says:

    Being a pharmacist means dispensing FDA approved medications as prescribed by a physician. In so doing I think that your beliefs don’t mean squat when behind the counter and you are handed a script to fill. When you decide you want to be a pharmacist you have to also accept that you will dispense various medications that you may have a problem with. These kinds of requirements come with many different jobs and that’s the choice people have to make if they decide to pursue a career in that field.

    As for Wal-Mart, they can suck it. Odds are they are the pharmacy of choice for a large portion of the people who would be eligible for the morning-after pill.

  4. Jay Levitt says:

    Ah, but how many of them have the hours that Wal-Mart does? In many places, they’re open 24 hours, which can be important since time is of the essence with the morning-after pill.

    I’ve been torn at the conundrum – patients’ rights versus pharmacists’ rights – but I saw a good analogy the other day that I haven’t been able to tear apart: Can a Hindi grocery cashier refuse to sell you meat?

  5. CatMoran says:

    It depends on your definition of ‘driving distance’.

    There are people who live two hours or more from the nearest town large enough to have a pharmacy. If that town’s only pharmacist has decided not to dispense a particular drug, the patient may have another two hour drive ahead of her.

    Pharmacists should dispense what’s written, period. They don’t have the patient’s medical history, they aren’t entitled to it, they don’t know what’s best for her. If they can’t handle doing their job, they need to find another job.

  6. DeeJayQueue says:

    While I agree that women should have access to the morning after pill if they need it, and that everyone should have access to the meds they need, especially when time is critical, the pharmacist does have the right to say no. That doesn’t mean that the Pharm Asst. can’t get the meds for you, or that another arrangement can’t be made. I work for a copy center (trust me i’m going somewhere with this) and a lot of times I’m asked to make copies of sensitive materials or materials which go against my beliefs or myself as a person. Imagine having a customer come in and ask you to copy flyers about banning gay marriage or gay rights, or seeking to deny another minority their equal rights. Hell imagine someone trying to copy porn or something like that. I have the ability to tell a customer that I won’t make copies of their material. If they want to get management, management can make the copies but the company stands behind me in my ability to not further causes I don’t believe in or have moral objection to. The same can be said for Walmart. I’m happy that the court ordered them to carry the drug in the first place. It’s a step in the right direction.

  7. Spontaneous Combustion wrote:

    I am not able to comment publically, but your Wal-mart post hit a sore spot and I was saddened to hear such sexist idiocy from your usually otherwise intelligent and informed mouths. My comment:

    I went to school in a small town in Iowa. Over the years I was there, I got to witness Wal-Mart drive the other pharmacies in town out of business. Then they abandoned their giant eyesore of a building to build a new one across the street. And as for driving distance, this Wal-Mart was already in the very edge of town, about 4 miles down a highway, and believe it or not, there are still people in this country who do not have ready access to a car, making anything other than the neighborhood pharmacy a hardship to visit.
    I am a scientist. I am also a vegetarian. I am not fond of cutting the brain and fetuses out of mice or using rabbits as antibody factories. Therefore, I do not take jobs that involve animal research. For a pharmacist to claim a moral objection to dispensing a drug is a contradiction and the case is such, that person should find a new profession.

    -Anacoluthia

  8. christy says:

    Even if you do live in an area where there is more than a Wal-Mart available (and trust me, there are places where Wal-Mart is the only game in town. I live in the boonies and I’ve seen it.) what if the pharmacist at Walgreens does the same thing? It’s entirely possible.

    I find one phrase of the post especially telling: “dispensing what he would consider to be an abortion pill.” I thought determining what a medication actually is is up to the FDA and medical experts. Most people who know more about the morning after pill than what they want to euphemistically call it, can tell you it is actually a lot like a birth control pill, which prevents implantation of an egg, and doesn’t actually abort an implanted fetus.

    Basically, allowing pharmacists to start refusing to dispense medications is a really slippery slope. What if, as a pharmacist, I am opposed to animal testing and so refuse to dispense a medication tested on animals? What if I just don’t like a certain heart medication? Somewhat relating to your Scientology post – what if I were a pharmacist who became a Scientologist and then refused to distribute anti-depressants.

    It all sounds ridiculous, but in the case of a woman’s right to choose, people can quickly rationalize it.

  9. As a response to Anacoluthia, I really think you need to read my post again. I am strongly pro-choice. I expressed no opinion on Wal-Mart’s planned policy, only stating that it was “reasonable” (though not necessarily correct, which is a different thing altogether) that a pharmacist not be forced to dispense against his beliefs. I then pointed out that in many states, it would be illegal to do so anyway, because pharmacists are protected by conscience clauses.

    What you really seem to be getting upset about is me asking two questions: “Is it REASONABLE for Wal-Mart to force pharmacists to dispense drugs, against their own moral beliefs?” and “Is it LEGAL for Wal-Mart to force pharmacists to dispense drugs against their own moral beliefs?”

    I’m sorry that even asking those questions is enough to get you to label me a sexist idiot. But I stand by the questions, because the answers aren’t obvious. Discussing them reasonably is the only way we’re ever going to get a handle on understanding the answers. You should watch that knee flailing about.

    For the rest of you, thanks for the comments – this is exactly the sort of intelligent discussion I was hoping to see when I made my post.

  10. Also, from Jared:

    I’m not a commenter, otherwise I would have just commented on the
    story. The problem with this debate over forcing pharmacists to
    dispense Morning-After pills is two-fold. One, Plan B is NOT an
    abortion pill, and ANY trained pharmacist should know that. It is just
    a high dose of the same synthetic hormones used in regular birth
    control. In fact, far as I know, most birth control pills can be used
    like Plan B: just take a large dose (the instructions commonly tell
    you how much). If a pharmacist isn’t going to give out Plan B on
    “Moral Grounds”, they better not give out prescription birth control.

    Second, and this is critical, is that we need to have
    no-questions-asked access to the drugs we need for our care. Imagine
    having serious pain, and going to the pharmacy with your prescription
    for Oxycontin; Only the pharmacist tells you you can’t have it,
    because he/she believes it leads to addiction and drug abuse.

    I understand moral objections. Fine, have them. State them even. And I
    understand that pharmacists are pretty well trained people. But in the
    end, give me my prescriptions, and shove the moral crap. You’re a
    service person, doing a service job; it comes with the territory.

    Thanks for your time.

    -Jared Rice

    P.S. You should put a “E-mail us about this story” Link on your
    comment pages. I’m not sure your “Tips” e-mail is appropriate for
    this, but I couldn’t find anywhere else to send it.

  11. Nick says:

    What if the pharmacist is a scientologist? Should they be allowed to refuse to distribute all medication for mental ilnesses?

  12. Ben Popken says:

    Morgan writes:

    I just wanted to mention that I agree with the commenters saying that pharmacists have no business taking the job if their morals would prevent them from doing the job- once a doctor has prescribed a medication, no one else has any business preventing a patient from having access to it. DeeJayQueue points out that she wouldn’t have to make copies of porn because she would morally object to it, and that’s fine, because that doesn’t affect anyone’s health. Pharmacists’ job, though, is to make sure patients get whatever medication their doctor has determined they need, and there’s no room for them to make moral decisions about someone else’s health.
    I also wanted to say that whatever country ExVee was talking about in his first comment must not be the United States, because while I’ve heard the name Walgreens, I’ve never seen one; I’ve never even heard of an Eckerd or CVS. I live in a decently sized city, too, so it’s not from living in the boonies. Don’t assume that whatever setup you have in your area is true for the entire country.

  13. Ben Popken says:

    Jaques writes:

    I am not registered as a commenter and do not post publicly on sites, but I am compelled to respond to your post about Plan B.

    First, as other commenters have noted, Plan B is NOT, medically, an abortion pill. It is a high dose of regular contraceptives, and PREVENTS pregnancy, rather than terminating it. Please do not perpetuate misinformation.

    Second, you are awfully flip about the availability of other pharmacies. Remember, Plan B is a medication that is time-sensitive, and since the same right-wing politicos who promote conscience clauses have prevented Plan B from being available over the counter (despite there being no medical reason for it not to be), the woman who is coming into the pharmacy for Plan B has ALREADY had to go to her doctor to get a prescription. In many parts of the country there could well be only one readily-reachable pharmacy – or, as others mentioned, other pharmacies could have other “conscience-constrained” pharmacists, effectively eliminating access.

    The pharmacist’s job is to count pills and hand them over. If a Christian pharmacist is allowed to refuse to dispense Plan B (which would suggest they can also refuse to dispense regular birth control, which I might add is often prescribed for reasons other than contraception, such as regulating a problematic menstrual cycle), then perhaps a Scientologist pharmacist can refuse to dispense anything but vitamins, or a Christian Scientist pharmacist can refuse to dispense anything at all. A vegan butcher can offer nothing but tofu. A Marxist cashier can refuse to ring up purchases of any kind. There is no end to the insanity.

    If conscience clauses are to exist (and in my opinion they should not – people need to stop demanding religious “freedom” that actually amounts to imposing their beliefs on others) then the only acceptable way of implementing them is to require that the SAME pharmacy provide another person who will fill the prescription. It is not acceptable to place an additional burden on the patient. So if you have one pharmacist who won’t provide Plan B, then you must, at all times, also have one who will.

    You may think that the “abortion” factor clouds this debate, but that is a smokescreen. This is not an abstract discussion. You are talking about a patient, a living, breathing woman, often one who has been raped. She has a right to the medication her doctor prescribes. It’s that simple. And your fast-and-loose treatment of the facts, combined with your dismissive tone, is both inappropriate and offensive in relation to such a serious issue.

  14. OkiMike says:

    The problem with these pharmacists is that they will rationalize until the cows come home as to why and to what degree they won’t comply.

    Even if they were legally protected from not having to comply with dispensing with abortion pill prescriptions, they still won’t refer the customer to someone or somplace who will because it’s the same thing in their minds.

  15. kabuki says:

    In my tiny college town, the only pharmacy available was Walmart. The local drugstore had gone out of business years ago with the rest of the old downtown stores. My parents’ small town is the same way.

    Also, don’t forget that your insurance plan often specifies which pharmacies you can use, which may again limit you to the Walmart pharmacy in many areas of the country.

    I am glad that Walmart is starting to provide full service for their female customers, but it’s still silly to allow their employees to dictate which prescriptions a customer will be allowed to fill. If I pick and choose which customers to serve in my job, I would be fired right away. I guess it’s only when you’re cowtowing to powerful special interest groups that you can discriminate against customers.