Morning after pill made OTC still controversial

The Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency contraception, Plan B often called the morning after pill, for over-the-counter sale in August. But at least for one Ohio couple, obtaining the medication was not that easy.

For years Plan B was available only with a prescription, and even then, some doctors would not prescribe it and some pharmacies would not carry it.

Now the FDA has labeled the emergency contraceptive safe enough for over-the-counter use by women 18 and older with proper ID. Girls under 18 require a prescription.

Earlier this month, a Springfield couple went to Wal-Mart seeking Plan B. The man was 37 and the woman, 23. Even though the store had it in stock, the pharmacist refused to dispense it saying he opposed abortion.

Kellie Copeland is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. Copeland said she was disappointed but not surprised the couple’s request was turned down. She said such denials have happened occasionally during the past several years

“We had hoped that with Wal-Mart’s new policy last year to stock and dispense Plan B and other contraceptives that we wouldn’t see this kind of thing at Wal-Marts any more,” Copeland said.

In a written statement, Wal-Mart said it has investigated the Springfield incident and has taken appropriate action to make sure Plan B is sold.

Earnest Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacist Association, said there is no law that specifically addresses the dispensing of Plan B. Boyd said the Ohio Board of Pharmacy lets pharmacists decide if a drug is sold.

“It is not a prescription drug and this is new territory. It’s really a situation that no pharmacy is required to carry every product that’s made by manufacturers and wholesalers. And this is the choice of the pharmacy to carry it, and at this stage it’s the choice of the pharmacist as to whether they’re going to dispense it,” Boyd said.

Plan B which is essentially an overdose of birth control hormones. Depending on where the woman is in her cycle, the drug could prevent her from ovulating or keep a fertilized egg from implanting on the lining of the uterus. Plan B is sometimes confused with the abortion pill RU-486 which terminates pregnancy. Again, Earnest Boyd.

“As the pharmacology of the drug is being understood and looked at, it’s very similar to the same pharmacology of the birth control tablet. And as you know we’ve never had problems with people getting a hold of birth control tablets. And this one acts in a similar matter,” Boyd said.

But Copeland said it should not be left up to a pharmacist whether a woman’s needs are met.

“This medication should not be treated any differently than any other medication that’s behind the counter or available to citizens whether we’re talking about aspirin or cold medicine or anything else. The pharmacist has a duty I think, or at least a pharmacy, has a duty to dispense medications to its patrons. That’s what they’re in business for,” Copeland said.

Mark Lally with the Ohio Right to Life said pharmacists should have a choice. Lally said doctors and nurses have a freedom of conscience choice, and so should pharmacists.

“We support the same freedoms of conscience for pharmacists and other medical professionals who don’t want to participate in what they morally believe is the taking of a human life,” Lally said.

Last year, State Senator Keith Faber, a republican from Mercer County, introduced a bill that would protect pharmacists’ and other medical professionals’ jobs if they refused to take part in an action they believe ends human life. The bill did not make it out of the House. There is no word if Faber will re-introduce the bill.

CVS and Walgreens both sell Plan B. Both stores say if a pharmacist is uncomfortable with selling Plan B or other drugs, arrangements must be made for another associate to sell it.