Wal-Mart's initial refusal to stock
the "morning-after" Pill
Overview about Wal-Mart in the U.S.
Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the United States, and its fifth largest provider
of pharmaceuticals. All but 22 Wal-Mart stores have pharmacy counters. In many cases,
their 3,400 pharmacies 19 have become the only source for prescription medication in their
region. Small, independently owned competing pharmacies have difficulty surviving and are
often driven out of business. Thus, Americans in rural areas of the country frequently
have to choose between buying their medication at Wal-Mart or of driving a long distance
to the next urban area where there is a non-Wal-Mart pharmacy.
According to an article in Christianity Today -- America's leading
Evangelical Christian magazine --:
" 'Is Wal-Mart a Christian company? No,' said
former Wal-Mart executive Don Soderquist at a recent prayer breakfast.
'But the basis of our decisions was the values of Scripture'." 18
By the term "values of Scripture" it is unclear whether they mean values as interpreted by conservative Protestant theologians, or by religious liberals. They are often diametrically opposed. Christianity Today continues:
"Indeed, based in the Bible Belt town of
Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart has a tradition of tailoring its service
to churchgoing customers. It sells only the sanitized versions of
hip-hop CDs bearing warnings of objectionable content. Responding to a
campaign by the largest evangelical mutual fund group, The Timothy Plan,
to keep Cosmopolitan magazine covers out of view of Wal-Mart customers,
the company slapped plastic sheathes over suggestive women's periodicals
and banned 'lad mags' such as Maxim." 18
The company decided in mid 1999-APR that they would no longer sell Preven,
a package of
emergency contraceptive pills that is often called "the
morning after pill" or "emergency contraceptive." (EC) 2Their policy is to refer women to other pharmacies. They stated:
"At this time Wal-Mart has made the business decision not to sell Preven.
However, in the interest of serving and meeting the needs of our customers, our
pharmacists will refer any request for this product to a pharmacy that does carry it." 14
The drug remains available at K-Mart, Rite Aid, Walgreens and other pharmacies in large chains.
This medication is taken by women who have had unprotected sex, to prevent pregnancy.
Some sources stated that Wal-Mart did not give a reason for its refusal to sell the pills.
One source stated that Wal-Mart had announced on 1999-APR-14 that the decision was not
related to ethical concerns. They had simply concluded that the medication might not sell
enough to make it economically worthwhile. 5 However, Wal-Mart continues to fill
prescriptions for regular birth control
pills, even though these pills and emergency contraception pills are identical,
except for dosage.
According to Planned Parenthood: "In a compromise reached a few months later, Wal-Mart instructed its pharmacists to fill prescriptions for birth control pills as ECPs or to refer customers to another store if they have an objection about dispensing a drug. Wal-Mart still refuses to sell Preven." (Morrow, 1999).
In 2006-FEB, a Massachusetts board ordered Wal-Mart to stock and dispense EC
within the state. This meant that Massachusetts and Illinois were the only two
states where Wal-Mart customers could obtain EC. In the latter case, a state
directive also required Wal-Mart to stock EC.
On 2006-MAR-03, officials at Wal-Mart's head office announced that they will
stock EC in all of its pharmacies starting 2006-MAR-30. 21 Covenant News reported this
development under the title: "Wal-Mart to kill babies nationwide." 22 This headline was probably based on the now discredited belief that EC can prevent implantation of the pre-embryo in the wall of the uterus. Medical studies now show that EC only acts as a contraceptive by inhibiting ovulation or preventing fertilization.
Overview about Wal-Mart in Canada:
The Canadian government approved the sale of Preven on 1999-NOV-5. This was the culmination of a
25 year campaign by pro-choice advocates to have "post-intercourse
contraception widely available and reduce the number of abortions"
The "emergency contraception kit" is sold with a home
pregnancy test for use before the woman takes the pills. If the woman tests
positive, then she is pregnant and the pills would have no effect. Preven
was released for sale by the manufacturer on 1999-NOV-10. The 144 stores of
Wal-Mart Canada initially did not stock Preven. However, they would order it on request.
Since Preven must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse, it would be unlikely for the store to receive the medicaiton on tie. Thus, their decision had the
same effect as their policy in the U.S. to not sell the pill at all.
Their decision to back-order Preven on request may be a clever ploy to avoid a
serious ethical problem. According to the Toronto Star newspaper, a pharmacists'
code of ethics (presumably formulated by the Canadian Pharmacists
Association) 15 requires "those who refuse
to sell a drug on moral or religious grounds must refer customers requesting it
to a store that does sell it." 16 Wal-Mart
might consider itself released from this requirement because:
||they may take the position that the decision to not stock Preven is a
business not a moral or religious decision.
||they are not refusing to sell Preven; they are merely making it impossible
for women to obtain the drug from them in time for it to be useable.
On 2005-APR-20, Health Canada reclassified Plan B to non-prescription
status. The Wal-Mart in Kingston ON Canada now stocks Plan B; we assume that
the entire Wal-Mart chain in Canada has it available as well.
How the pills work (as viewed by medical professionals, pro-choice groups,
Physicians and other medical professionals classify the "morning-after" pill
as a contraceptive. This is because it prevents the start of pregnancy. (If it could
terminate a pregnancy which was already in progress, then it would have been called an abortificant). Pregnancy is defined as beginning when the fertilized ovum attaches to the
wall of the uterus - typically about 12 days after conception.
Emergency contraception was originally believed capable of working in one of three ways:
||If an ovum has not been recently released from an ovary, the medication
will usually prevent it from being released.
||If an ovum has recently been released, the pill would usually prevent it from
||If the ovum has already been fertilized, it was originally believed that the pills
will "alter the lining of the uterus inhibiting the implantation of the embryo." 3 This has since been shown to be very improbable or impossible.
||If the ovum has developed to the blastocyst stage and has already attached itself to the uterine wall, the pills
will have no effect. The pregnancy had already begun and will continue normally.
How the pills work (as viewed by some pro-life groups):
All of the major pro-life groups define pregnancy as starting at conception, when the
sperm fertilizes the ovum. They also regard this as the instant where life (in the form of an ovum and sperm) becomes a human
these groups, any termination of the process after conception has occurred, is considered
murder of a little baby -- of a human person at its most vulnerable stage.
They believe that emergency contraception may work in one of three ways, as listed above. However, most reject the findings of research and believe that the
pills can act as an abortificant, by causing the uterine wall to reject the
blastocyst. They believe that the medication kill the baby at its earliest stage of life.
Some response by pro-life individuals and groups:
||On the basis of these definitions which are unique to the pro-life movement, the American
Life League (A.L.L.) states that a morning-after pill "can act to kill a
tiny baby in his or her first few hours of life." 4The
medication (which A.L.L. calls "chemicals") "have the potential of
killing tiny babies in the womb...Previn, [sic] [is] the abortion-causing 'morning-after'
||Lloyd DuPlantis, president of Pharmacies for Life International (PLI) said:
"We concur with Wal-Mart on that decision." 8 PLI,
reportedly urges its members to refuse to fill most prescriptions for emergency
contraceptives, the birth control pill, contraceptive implants, injections and
intrauterine devices. 12
||In an interview during the TV program "Fox Report" pharmacist Jimmy DeFranco
said: "These pills are actually an abortion type of situation, and we don't want
to get involved in that. We're talking about killing babies or killing fetuses...There is
a lot of controversy -- Exactly what is abortion? And we feel at the time the egg is
fertilized by the sperm, that is conception." He operates an independent
pharmacy in the Bronx, and refuses to fill prescriptions for Preven. 7
Gene Rigozzo, a New Jersey pharmacist stated: "Abortions have gone from being
a medical procedure to being just a pharmaceutical procedure. I think the issue will
actually become more debated and heated as more and more drugs that induce abortion hit
the market." 10
Since some pro-life agencies use unique definitions for the terms abortion,
pregnancy, and personhood, no resolution appears possible between their
position and that of the medical and pro-choice communities.
Reactions to the Wal-Mart decision:
Judie Brown of the American Life League stated: "They are to be
congratulated for their decision and commended for sticking to it." It "may
save human lives." Brown said. On their web site, they also ask that Wal-Mart
discontinue selling oral contraceptives.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said that Wal-Mart "deserts
women faced with reproductive health emergencies." 14
Marie Griffin, editor of Drug Store News commented that retailers have an
obligation to not withhold drugs that doctors have decided that a woman needs: "They
[Wal-Mart] should not get involved in the sacred relationship between a
physician and patient." 14
Mr. DuPlantis, president of Pharmacists for Life International agreed with
Wal-Mart: "Regarding Preven, based on the way we feel that life begins at
fertilization, it's an abortifacient mechanism." 14
Results of the Wal-Mart decision (as viewed by some pro-life groups):
For those pro-life groups that believe that pregnancy and personhood begin at
conception, and who also reject the findings of medical research and believe that the morning-after pills may inhibit implantation, EC can work as an abortifacient - i.e. medication that
induces an abortion. Thus any restriction on their sale will reduce the number of
In many rural areas of the United States, the Wal-Mart decision will restrict women's
access to emergency contraception. It is likely that more women will not make the
necessary time and effort to travel to another town or city to obtain the morning-after
pill. Thus, they conclude that there will be a decrease in the U.S. abortion rate.
Results of the Wal-Mart decision (as viewed by medical professionals, pro-choice
As noted above, Wal-Mart is restricting women's access to emergency contraception.
Fewer women who have had unprotected sex will be able to use the pill. The number of unwanted
pregnancies will increase. This will, in turn, generate an increase in the U.S.
abortion rate because about half of all unanticipated pregnancies end in abortion.
An abortion performed in a clinic or hospital is far safer than a
continued pregnancy. However, infections can occur; this can cause sterility and (in very
rare instances) death. In those states where parental notification or permission is
required for teens to obtain an abortion, some young women are seeking illegal abortions,
where risks are considerably higher. It is thus inevitable that restricting access to
emergency contraception will result in deaths to women.
Further developments 1997 to 2006:
||1997-MAY: Wal-Mart boycott proposed: The Kaiser reproductive health report reported that Planned Parenthood of New York City "has informed Wal-Mart Stores
Inc. that it may orchestrate a boycott of its pharmacies" because of its ban on
Preven. Their president, Alexander Sanger wrote: "I strongly urge Wal-Mart to
immediately re-evaluate and reverse its decision to not stock, order or dispense emergency
contraception under the brand name Preven." 6 The
threatened boycott never materialized.
||1997-APR: Kosovo refugees: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
and Planned parenthood Federation of America announced that they had sent
reproductive health supplies (including emergency contraceptives) to help Kosovo refugees
who are frequently the victims of rape. Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical
Academy for Life in the Vatican said that use of emergency contraception is "tantamount
to abortion...it was important to distinguish between the act of violence suffered and the
reality of new human beings who have begun their life" 9
||State laws: Bills have been initiated in Louisiana, New Jersey,
Dakota to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill subscriptions if they conflict with their
personal creed. The Louisiana bill defines personal creed as "a system of
religious beliefs and precepts [that] a person holds with the strength of religious views
||Pharmacist option: Dr. Leon Speroff wrote in an article in OB/GYN
Clinical Alert: "I believe that most of us would agree that pharmacists
should have the opportunity to remove themselves from an action they cannot morally
support. But at the same time, the right of the patient to obtain legally approved
medication must be protected."
||1999-MAY: Second boycott: Women Leaders Online suggest that people avoid
buying stuff from Wal-Mart, to keep a record of how much money they have diverted from
Wal-Mart, and then send them an Email at email@example.com with a message such as:
"This week, I spent $134.23 at stores other than Wal-Mart. I made a business
decision not to patronize Wal-Mart for these purchases, since your decision not to sell
Emergency Contraception made it clear that you did not want my business, nor that of other
women. If you change your minds and start providing the medicine women need, please let me
||2006-FEB-14: MA: Pharmacy board orders Wal-Mart to honor Plan B prescriptions: Three
women filed complaints with the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board, critical
for failing to stock Plan B medication. It is the only emergency
contraceptive approved by the FDA. The Board ordered Wal-Mart to fill
prescriptions for Plan B. More details.
||2006-FEB-17: Connecticut: Comptroller
asks Wal-Mart to honor Plan B prescriptions: Apparently triggered by
the Massachusetts developments, Nancy Wyman, the state comptroller of
Connecticut, has asked Wal-Mart to stock emergency contraceptive in its
20 pharmacies in the state. More details.
Should retailers have the right to not stock all products?
An editorial in the Opekika-Auburn News in east central Alabama
expressed dismay at the 2006-FEB developments in Massachusetts. It states, in
"Pro-choice or pro-life is not the issue here. The issue here is the
government dictating what we should consider as free enterprise. Wal-Mart,
and any other retail store, should be able to carry any product it chooses
just like it should be able to choose not to carry some products. The
government should not be able to force a retailer to carry a product. When
this happens, the government has a form of ownership, or control, over this
"Aren’t state-run industries signs of socialism or even communism? Is this
what we want in America?"
"Imagine the government coming into your place of business and forcing you
to sell certain products. It’s a form of socialism and it’s absurd to even
think that the governing body of this nation that is supposed to be a free
democracy would even consider such. How ironic it is that the pro-choice
group would press to remove choice from a retailer."
"Wal-Mart is not denying women the ‘morning after’ pill. Wal-Mart is not
restricting women from taking the pills. They just aren’t providing them at
their locations. The pill can very well be purchased at many other retail
stores that include pharmacy departments. Free enterprise is special. Let’s
not begin to destroy it." 20
Wal-mart reverses its decision; stores will stock Plan B pill across the U.S.:
A Wal-Mart spokesperson announced on 2006-MAR-03 that the company would start
to stock EC in all its 3,700 pharmacies in the U.S. starting on MAR-20. Vice
president Ron Chomiuk said: "We expect more states to require us to sell
emergency contraceptives in the months ahead. Because of this, and the fact that
this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the
country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it." They will continue
their conscientious objection policy which allows any Wal-Mart or Sam's Club
employee who feels uncomfortable dispensing this or any other prescription to
refer customers to another pharmacy or pharmacist.
Grossman, executive director of union-backed campaign group WalMartWatch.com,
said: "We commend Wal-Mart for taking an important first step towards
allowing women access to safe and legal medication."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Wal-Mart receives letters from the public at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Religion Today, Current News summary, 1999-MAY-17
- A "Provider Attitudes towards ECPs" survey is at: http://www.path.org/
- "Action Alert," American Life League, at: http://www.all.org/
- "Maranatha Daywatch," daily summary of news headlines, 1999-MAY-5
- News report, Reuters/Buffalo News, 1999-MAY-15; cited in "Preven: Planned
Parenthood may boycott Wal-Mart." See: http://report.kff.org/ *
- Fox Report, 1999-APR-15, Fox News Channel. See: http://report.kff.org/ *
- "Preven: Wal-Mart's decision not to dispense product outrages women's groups."
See: http://report.kff.org/ *
- Article, Agence France Press, 1999-APR-13. See: http://report.kff.org/ *
- "Conscience clause: New Jersey pharmacist bill in the works."
See: http://report.kff.org/ *
- Dr. Leon Speroff, Article, OB/GYN Clinical AlertOB/GYN Clinical Alert, 1998-DEC
- "Emergency Contraception: crisis at the pharmacy counter," at: http://report.kff.org/ *
- "Wal-Mart's Accounting," Women Leaders Online/Women Organizing
for Change alert: 1999-MAY-28.
- Quoted in an article, New York Times, 1999-APR-16.
- The Canadian Pharmacists Association has a web site at: http://www.cdnpharm.ca/
- Tanya Talaga, "Morning-after pill Preven goes on sale in Canada,"
Toronto Star, 1999-NOV-11, Page A2.
- D.J. Morrow, "Policy on Prescription Orders at Wal-Mart Draws
Praise." The New York Times, (1999-SEP-16), Page 10. as cited in
"Fact sheet: Emergency contraception," Planned Parenthood, http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
- Jeff Sellers, "Deliver Us from Wal-Mart? Christians are among those sounding the
alarm about the ethics of this retail giant. Are the worries justified?,"
Christianity Today, 2005-MAY.
- "Wal-Mart May Stock 'Emergency'
Contraceptives," ConsumerAffairs.com, 2006-FEB-15, at: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/
- "Retailers have right not to stock all
products," Opekika-Auburn News, 2006-FEB-17, at: http://www.oanow.com/
- "Wal-Mart decides to carry Plan B pill," Associated Press,
2006-MAR-05, at: http://www.usatoday.com
- "Wal-Mart to kill babies nationwide," Covenant News, 2006-MAR-06, at: http://www.covenantnews.com
* Cited in Kaiser reproductive health reports.
Copyright © 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2010-JUN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson