Boxer Bill Would Require Pharmacies To Fill All Prescriptions
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has introduced federal legislation that would require pharmacies to fill all prescriptions, including those for contraceptives, or refer customers to another pharmacy that will fill the prescription in question, regardless of a pharmacist's religious or ethical beliefs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The measure "avoids questions about federal jurisdiction" by requiring all pharmacies that fill Medicare and Medicaid prescriptions to ensure that all legal prescriptions are filled "quickly," even if an individual pharmacist objects to dispensing the medication, according to the Chronicle.
Pharmacists would not be allowed to harass women seeking to fill prescriptions. Although the bill does not require pharmacies to stock contraceptives, pharmacies would be required to order the medications if their supply is out of stock. Boxer said the measure is intended to protect women's access to contraception, following reports that pharmacists who are opposed to the use of birth control or emergency contraception have refused to fill such prescriptions for women, according to the Chronicle.
"When people go into their pharmacy with a valid prescription, they should have confidence that their prescription will be filled in a timely manner and they will not face any harassment," Boxer said, adding, "Contraceptives are legal and safe, and they help prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions."
M. Casey Mattox, an attorney with the Center for Law and Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society, said he objects to the provision in Boxer's bill that would require pharmacists who refuse to fill a prescription to refer patients to another pharmacy, the Chronicle reports. Mattox said that although "[m]ost pharmacies are comfortable with referring" patients, the provision "will be too much for some." He added, "Congress has an obligation under the 14th Amendment to protect people's constitutional rights. They have an obligation to protect pharmacists' rights, not to violate their rights."
However, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center, said that in addition to refusing to fill their prescriptions, pharmacists "often" lecture women seeking contraceptives. "It's not like we're saying you have to violate your conscience," Waxman said, adding, "These bills put the requirement on pharmacies, not pharmacists" (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/19).
Boxer's bill is similar to federal legislation proposed last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/19). The federal Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act would not require individual pharmacists to dispense medications that violate his or her religious or moral beliefs, but another pharmacist at the same facility would be required to fill any prescription that a fellow pharmacist refuses to fill because of personal objections.
In addition, the measure would require pharmacies that regularly stock prescription contraceptives to order emergency contraception if a patient requests it and bar pharmacists from harassing or humiliating customers attempting to fill any prescription (California Healthline, 4/15).
Boxer's bill also is similar to California state legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D), that two state Senate committees are expected to consider next week, the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/19). In addition to California, lawmakers in three other states -- Missouri, New Jersey and West Virginia -- have proposed legislation that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.
Lawmakers in 22 other states -- Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have introduced bills that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions because of their personal beliefs.
Arkansas, Mississippi and South Dakota already have passed such laws, and Georgia officials have adopted a regulation allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions (California Healthline, 4/15).
The New York Times on Tuesday examined the debate over pharmacists' refusals to fill prescriptions because of their ethical or moral beliefs and the recent state and federal legislation introduced to address the issue (Davey/Belluck, New York Times, 4/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.