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Emergency Contraception (a.k.a. EC & "Morning After" Pill)

Developments during the year 2004

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Developments during 2004:

bullet2004-JAN-29: TX: Eckerd Corp. fires three pharmacists over EC: Fox News reported that Eckerd Corp. fired three of their Denton, TX pharmacists because they refused to fill an emergency contraception prescription for a woman who had been raped. Gene Herr said that he and two coworkers were fired six days after their refusal. He said that his own refusal was based on religious grounds. He allegedly believes that the medication could have killed an embryo if the woman had already conceived. He had allegedly declined to fill prescriptions for EC at least five times in the past. However, this was the first time that a case had involved a rape victim. He is reported as saying: "I went in the back room and briefly prayed about it. I actually called my pastor ... and asked him what he thought about it." The other two pharmacists who were on duty also refused to fill the prescription. The woman was able to eventually have it filled at a nearby pharmacy. Joan Gallagher, the vice president of communications for Eckerd said that their employment manual says that pharmacists are not allowed to opt out of filling prescriptions for religious, moral or ethical reasons. Eckerd may have had inadequate training in place. Herr said: "In my mind if I agree to work for someone knowing that that's their policy, then I should submit to that policy. But I didn't even know about it." 1
bullet2004-FEB-11: ME: State senate passes bill to allow EC with no prescription: The Maine Senate passed a bill that would allow specially trained pharmacists to dispense EC without a doctor's prescription. The vote was 19 to 13. An amendment that would have required minors to get parental consent was rejected by a vote of 21 to 11.The next step will be for the House to debate the issue. Rep. Nancy Sullivan, (D-Biddeford) said: "I would hope that we will pass it." Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, predicted the bill's defeat in the House.

If passed into law, Maine would become the sixth state in the U.S. to create such a law. A number of family planning and women's groups have argued that making EC more accessible would reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Christian Civic League of Maine, and other groups, expressed concern that women might abuse the pills if they are too easy to get. Sen. Kenneth Blais, (R-Litchfield), and some other legislators, feel that parents should be involved in the decision to use EC. Blais said: "As a parent, I'm very uncomfortable with relegating my parental responsibilities to a pharmacist in this matter. What it reflects is the movement of parental responsibility away from parents and to the state." This comment seems to show that he misunderstands the content of the bill. The state would not be involved in the decision whether to use EC; this would be only by agreement between the woman and her pharmacist. 2

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bullet2004-MAY-6: U.S.: FDA rejects over-the-counter status for EC: The Food and Drug Administration received a recommendation by its advisory panel to make Barr Pharmaceuticals' Plan B available "over the counter" without a physician's prescription. However the FDA administration rejected the conclusion of its own panel and decided to make no changes in the drug's distribution. Fundamentalist Christian groups such as the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America applauded the decision. Many Democrats and a few Republicans criticized the FDA. 5
bullet2004-MAY-19: Canada: Health Canada proposes to make EC available without a prescription: Women in British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan are able to purchase the emergency contraception Levonorgestrel (Plan B) from pharmacists without a prescription. Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew is proposing that this policy be extended across Canada. This would make it easier for women to obtain the medication overnight, on weekends and holidays when doctor's offices are closed. Some responses were reported in the media:
bulletPierre Pettigrew said: "We're doing this to help women, often younger women, who are facing difficult circumstances sometimes at a moment when they're trying to build a life for themselves in the future.
bulletKathleen O'Grady, spokesperson for the Canadian Women's Health Network cited a Pittsburgh study that tracked 300 young women between the ages of 15 and 20 for five years. The study found that they did not use the pill as a regular form of birth control.
bulletDr. Henry Morgentaler, one of Canada's best known abortion providers, suggested that making Plan B more easily available should mean fewer women facing unwanted pregnancies and possible abortions. He called Health Canada's decision "a very welcome move."
bulletAccording to the Toronto Star newspaper, "The Campaign Life Coalition said Ottawa has erred in making a pill designed to prevent pregnancy easier to get." Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer the Coalition said: "The morning-after pill is a double-dose contraceptive pill, and all of the side-effects that come with that are doubled. So it's a very dangerous cocktail that they're proposing." (She overlooks the fact that birth control pills are taken almost daily; EC is taken only very rarely, when normal pregnancy prevention methods fail.)
bulletMarie-Jo Laroche, executive director of League for Life in Manitoba, said: "It is highly unethical to make the morning-after pill available in the first place, let alone without a prescription. It may lead a women to unnormally [sic] abort an already developing embryo. To tell women that they are contracepting [sic] when they may actually be aborting is wrong."
bulletMike McBride, a father from Calgary, AB, said: "Hey, I have three teenage daughters. I don't want them thinking this will erase any mistakes they make. What if they get AIDS?" Again, he may be confusing EC with regular birth control. It is important to remember that the "E" in "EC" stands for "Emergency."

This decision, if it is implemented as expected in the fall, will have an impact on some U.S. women who live in border cities close to a Canadian pharmacy. 3,4
bullet2004-JUN-2: U.S.: FDA may still approve EC for sale over-the-counter: Representative James Greenwood (R-PA) met with Steven Galson, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Greenwood indicated with confidence that the FDA would reverse its earlier decision and make the contraceptive Plan B available over the counter before the end of 2004. Amy Allina of the National Women's Health Network expressed pessimism that EC would be made available without prescription. She said: "That would a big surprise for me. But it would be a good thing for women." Gloria Feldt, of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "I bet it wouldn't happen before the election. If science prevails [over politics], it will happen sooner instead of later." 5 The largest gynecologists' association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, estimates that the move could cut in half the 3 million U.S. unwanted pregnancies each year. The impact on abortion would be massive.
bullet2004-JUN-20: AL: Alabama to continue distribution of EC: Public Health Department Officials in Alabama had allowed family planning clinics to distribute EC. The government is now under pressure to discontinue the practice. According to Associated Press: "Christian Coalition president John Giles says it's promoting a whole new market for young teenagers to get pregnant and run to the Health Department to get bailed out." State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson considers it "good health policy." State congressman Robert Alderhold believes that the pills cause abortions; state health officials believe that the pills reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions. 6
bullet2004-JUL-10: AL: EC distribution causes debate: Fox News reports that some Department of Public Health nurses are quitting their jobs rather than going against their religious beliefs by distributing EC to clients so that the latter will not become pregnant. Dr. Donald Williamson of the Alabama Department of Public Health said: "If emergency contraception were more widely available, more than 4,000 of the 10,000 abortions in Alabama would be prevented. It becomes good public policy." Apparently out of ignorance, Fox News accompanied their article with a picture of a one month contraceptive pill dispenser, rather than a picture of emergency contraception medication.  7
bullet2004-OCT-18: USA: Barr Pharmaceuticals reapply: This company manufactures Plan B emergency contraceptive pills. Their request to sell Plan B to anyone was turned down earlier this year. They have recently reapplied for permission to sell it to persons 16 years of age or older.  Sixteen years of age is the average age at which teens become sexually active. Those younger than 16 would still require a prescription from a doctor. They anticipated a decision by the FDA sometime in 2005. 8

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References used:

  1. "Pharmacists Fired for Refusing Morning-After Pill," Associated Press, 2004-FEB-11, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  2. Paul Carrier, "Senate OKs sales of morning-after pill," Portland Press Herald, 2004-FEB-12, at: http://www.pressherald.com/
  3. Karen Palmer, "Morning-after contraceptive pill may be easier to obtain," The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-19, Page A19.
  4. "Morning-after pill to go behind the counter," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family Canada, 2004-MAY-21.
  5. Bob Cusack, "FDA likely to approve Plan B pill," The Hill, 2004-JUN-09, at: http://www.thehill.com/
  6. "State to Continue Offering 'Morning After' Pills," Alabama Associated Press, 2004-JUN-20. at: http://www.wsfa.com/
  7. "Ala. Morning-After Pill Policy Stirs Debate," Fox News, 2004-JUL-10, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  8. Martha Irvine, "FDA weighs morning-after pill for teens," Yahoo! News, 2004-OCT-18, at: http://news.yahoo.com/

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Copyright © 2004 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Created: 2004-FEB-12
Latest update: 2007-MAY-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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