Lawmakers Consider Legislation Requiring Pharmacists To Dispense All Legal Drugs
California lawmakers on Tuesday are scheduled to consider legislation that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for all legal drugs, including emergency contraception, unless another pharmacist is available to fill the prescription without unduly inconveniencing the consumer, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In 2002, California was the first state in the country to pass a bill allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to women under specified physician protocols, according to the Times. Under the two pending measures, the state's 25,000 pharmacists would be required to dispense all legal drugs unless another pharmacist was available to fill it.
Under (SB 644) by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), pharmacists who decline to fill a prescription could face action by the California Board of Pharmacy. Groups including NARAL Pro-Choice California and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California support the bill.
AB 21, by Assembly member Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), would permit the state attorney general to act against pharmacists who refuse to comply with the law. The Assembly Health Committee is scheduled to hear the bill Tuesday.
Both bills require objecting pharmacists to have previously notified their employers in writing of their objections to filling EC prescriptions. Both bills would require objecting pharmacists to fill the prescriptions if another pharmacist is not available.
The California Pharmacists Association has "raised concerns" about the new bills, the Times reports. CPA wants Ortiz's bill to be rewritten to apply to all medical professionals who dispense drugs, rather than pharmacists exclusively. CPA also opposes the authorization of action by the state attorney general in Levine's legislation.
Ortiz said, "The Legislature has spoken on the right for women to have access to emergency contraception," adding, "We're simply trying to ensure that consumers -- women -- are not abandoned and that they'll have timely access to the medication."
Elizabeth Nash of the Alan Guttmacher Institute said, "These bills, no one's ever tried anything like them before." She added, "By their very nature, they are untested. We don't know how the implementation would work."
Charlie Green, who owns two pharmacies in Stockton, said that he previously has declined to fill EC prescriptions and directed consumers to other pharmacies. He said, "Being a Catholic and a man of conscience, I have a difficult time with anything that could be interpreted at all as terminating a pregnancy." He added, "My feeling is, if I choose not to do that, I still have an obligation to my patients to seek out the best health care they need."
The pharmacy board said it had received no complaints about pharmacists declining to fill EC prescriptions (Rau, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).