No pills for you, says Wal-Mart

Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy orders Wal-Mart to stock morning after pills

Last year the Washington Post reported that "pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs." But when Wal-Mart chose not to stock morning after pills they cited "business reasons" rather than moral or religious convictions.

In Massachusetts three women cited legal reasons when they sued the chain to force it to dispense the morning after pill (emergency contraception). According to Associated Press:

The lawsuit, backed by abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and Jane Doe Inc., argues Wal-Mart is violating a state policy that requires pharmacies to provide all "commonly prescribed medicines." They are suing to force compliance with the regulation through the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act.

Then on Tuesday the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy ordered Wal-Mart to stock the drug:

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company would comply with the directive by the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy and is reviewing its nationwide policy on the drug.

"Clearly women’s health is a high priority for Wal-Mart," spokesman Dan Fogleman said. "We are actively thinking through the issue."

Pro-choice groups including NARAL are leading a campaign to persuade the company to change its policy nationwide.

 

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Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

I’m very pleased to hear that “women’s health is a high priority for Wal-Mart”.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Yes Nicholas. Wal-Mart’s chief executive H Lee Scott is concerned about employee health benefits too. When a manager asked him about thie issue he said:

Quite honestly, this environment isn’t for everyone. There are people who would say, ‘I’m sorry, but you should take the risk and take billions of dollars out of earnings and put this in retiree health benefits and let’s see what happens to the company.’ If you feel that way, then you as a manager should look for a company where you can do those kinds of things.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Why don’t these people simply go to a chemist that sells them.

No company should be forced to sell anything.

Gummo Trotsky
15 years ago

Let’s take sexual morality out of the picture for a second, Homer. Suppose the pharmacists were scientologists, who refused to dispense psychiatric medication because psychiatry is evil, evil, evil! And that’s just for starters – give me a little time with one of me old text books and I can probably come up with a few other examples of drugs and medicines that pharmacists might refuse to dispense because of their religious scruples.

The only example that springs to mind immediately – unfortunately it brings sexual morality back into play – is the tetracycline anti-biotics – should a pharmacist have the right to ask patients to show proof that they don’t have the clap before filling a prescription for those? It’s quite consistent with the proposition that they shouldn’t be forced to sell things they don’t want to, to people they don’t want to sell them to.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Cobblers Gummo.

It’s outrageous to compell people to sell stuff without a very compelling reason. So long as stuff can be purchased from nearby chemists – sorry ‘drug stores’, what’s the problem?

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

“It’s outrageous to compell people to sell stuff without a very compelling reason.”

What a quaint way you have of expressing an idea, Nicholas! This is just what Wal-Mart is up against – a “compelling” reason. They don’t want to stock something so they are being compelled to. Just shows how far down the collectivist, totalitarian path the USA has gone.

I suppose if the Catholic church doesn’t want to ordain an athiest, or a Muslim, or a Hindu or a protestant as a priest there’s a compelling reason for them to do so.

Gummo Trotsky
15 years ago

Interesting.

I think at this point in the procedings I’ll just settle for being glad that I don’t live in a small one-drug-store town in the US, where the local pharmacist has decided that it goes against his conscience to fill some of my doctor’s prescriptions.

Seems to me there might be something in the “getting a prescription filled” transaction that escapes the simple “businesses shouldn’t have to sell stuff they don’t want to” argument.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Gummo is being confused,

In the states there isn’t a lot of miles between small towns.

They are everywhere.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

At least small towns in the US have drug stores.

Anna Winter
Anna Winter
15 years ago

I’m with Gummo. People shouldn’t be compelled to act against their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean others should be forced to accept the consequences of their “conscientious objection”.

If you want to be a conscientious objector, then accept the consequences your self and don’t become a pharmacist.

Jeebus – birth control pills have been around since the 60s – people know what pharmacists do before they become one.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Anna,
a prospective Chemist is entitled to sell and not to sell anything he/she is allowed to.

Since when do we in a democratic country tell any businessman/woman how they should run their business?

Are you going to tell a an owner of a bookshop they must stock porn?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

I think it’s a balancing act and am with Nicholas on this. I don’t think the chemist should have the right to not stock some medicines if, say,it is the beneficiary of having a monopoly in a sufficiently large chunk of the country. If there is enough competition though it should then be left to market forces.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

I don’t know about the US, but in Australia pharmacists are the recipients of taxpayers’ money in various forms. Their degree is taxpayer-subsidised assuming they gained it under HECS or earlier systems. Their shop is protected by a government licensing system that severely limits competition. And finally, they are the beneficiaries of the PBS scheme that keeps the majority of precription medicines affordable. The quid pro quo is that we are entitled to demand that they fulfill a public interest role and not hide behind a bullshit “market forces” excuse. We can reasonably expect pharmacists to stock at least all medicines/prescriptions that are in regular demand. That certainly applies to contraceptive pills.

Moreover, and partly because of the pharmacy licensing system, chemist shops are not so thick on the ground in many areas (especially rural and regional Australia) that one can simply trot around the corner and obtain a medicine that some ideologue refuses to stock on “conscience” grounds. Even in larger cities, there is potential inconvenience and even danger for (say) an age pensioner without a car who turns up to get a prescription filled only to find out that this particular chemist refuses to stock it. Admittedly it’s highly unlikely that an aged pensioner will need a morning after pill or RU486, but who knows where it will stop once we concede that the “conscience” excuse is a permissible one? Some chemists might refuse to stock Viagra on the ground that it encourages geriatric sin and fornication! And maybe there are even some life-preserving drugs that people from some religious group or another might have a “conscientious” objection to selling. If you’ve got any “conscientious” objection to dispensing any lawful medication whatever, you have no business being a retail pharmacist and should lose your licence forthwith.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

There you haveit.

A chemist in Australia should stock what Ken wants or else.

no freedom there.

Craig Malam
Craig Malam
15 years ago

Yep I agree this is a double edged sword. If you want to be a state-sanctioned monopoly you have to abide by the requirements under that licence. So, I’d suggest this means you are essentially operating in the public domain and your religion should stay at home. But, I agree this kind of compulsion doesn’t seem right. Perhaps this is another reason why the circumstances that get the retailer/pharmacist into this position – insufficient competition, state sanctioned or otherwise – ought to be prevented. As for people in small towns, access to competing suppliers need not be so difficult: use the internet.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

No Homer. I’m unlikely ever to need a morning after pill or RU 486, although I might well need Viagra one day soon. A chemist should stock everything that anyone would normally expect a chemist to stock, because they are performing an essential public service and are subsidised by the taxpayer. And there’s plenty of freedom. If they don’t want to fulfill this public responsibility, then they shouldn’t accept the taxpayers’ funds or monopolise a scarce pharmacy licence that someone else will be prepared to utilise more responsibly in the public interest, and should go away and do something else where their stupid prejudices can’t do any harm.

Expectations of this sort are relatively common for professional occupations. Barristers, for instance, operate under an ethical rule that requires them to accept a brief from anyone irrespective of their personal views or prejudices about that client. The rule achieves the public interest objective that arguably odious individuals like accused child molesters are able to obtain competent legal representation and therefore have a fair trial. A barrister isn’t allowed to refuse a brief for “conscientious” reasons such as that his religion strongly disapproves of the conduct his client has allegedly (or even avowedly) committed. Thus, as with chemists, a person who objects strongly on “conscientious” grounds to acting for rapists or child molesters simply should not become a barrister practising at the criminal bar.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Craig – As I understand it, a woman needs to get started on emergency contraception within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. You don’t want to be waiting around for a courier to arrive with your pills — especially if you’ve already had to wait to see a doctor and get a prescription.

The internet’s not a complete solution to this problem.

Anna Winter
Anna Winter
15 years ago

Well said, Ken.

Freedom of religion is one thing, freedom from religion another.

It’s admirable when someone gives up financial gain/ enjoyable careers/ power for their religion. It’s not something to be celebrated when someone demands that the rest of us make the sacrifice for their religion.

All pharmacists are being required to do is hand over a prescription. This is not such a huge imposition that other people’s health and reproductive freedom may be sacrificed to protect their sensibilities.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Socialists everywhere.

Ken if Chemists are performing a public service then nationalise them.

Craig Malam
Craig Malam
15 years ago

It’s true that the internet would only represent a partial solution for people in the country. But the cause of that problem is essentially that they are a small geographical market. Small geographical markets alone might not be something we should regulate for. I think the potential costs of such types of intervention often outweigh the benefits. What of all the other circumstances where the views of the other geographical monopolists impinge on those wanting to purchase from them – the news agent, the petrol station, the grocer, and so on? The obstacles presented by the opinions of only a few within a small town, would surely not be uncharted waters for those living in small communities. I think these tensions are often dealt with by semi-democratic means, such as community members placing pressure (buyer boycotts and otherwise) on the ‘offending’ member. If situations like the emergency contraception you are talking about were becoming systematic in smaller communities then I agree we should intervene, but we shouldn’t be too quick to underestimate the potential for small communities to stand up to their local monopolists if he or she is excercising a minority (or even majority) view.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

So we are all agreed then, that it isn’t a cut and dried issue? Whether private decisions to disallow particular medications should be prohibited depends on an analysis of competitive conditions. The US market may well be different from Australia’s leading to different prescriptions (no pun intended) for each.

And of course regulators should employ people like me to work this out.

Homer Paxton ( Sorry Nicholas)
Homer Paxton ( Sorry Nicholas)
15 years ago

Of course it is black and white.

A person who sets up their business is entitled to be a clever or as stupid in running that business.
This is a bitter pill for the socialists to swallow ( one pun at least is needed) but that is how the market system is supposed to work.

Next thing we will have Ken whinging his Newsagent is not stocking his favourite porn magazine!

if they employed Jason and his brother it would be two soon

martin english
15 years ago

We’re talking about a fairly specific issue here, but as someone pointed out there’s plenty of scope for comparison with other industries – whether you’re in favour of compulsion or not. Perhaps it’s an obvious point, but people will use the comparison that suits their position rather than finding the most appropriate comparison and using that to determine their position.

In a round about way, Jimmy Carter’s new book touchs on this – see nybooks review. He talks about how the moral rigidity of the US “pro-life”

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

It wasn’t that long ago (well OK it was) that many Catholic chemists refused to stock what we quaintly used to call French Letters on the basis of their religions. And this was before the pill when even a married man had to be quite surreptitious and sneaky to walk into a chemist to ask for a “contraceptive”. Imagine how embarrassing it was, having built up your courage, only to be told disapprovingly that “We do not stock THAT SORT OF THING HERE”. And even when the chemist was “a man of the world” the smirk as he sold you the package in a “brown paper package” was totally “I wish the floor would open up” stuff.

At the same time I can’t agree with Ken that just because the PBS is socialism that anyone practicising his or her profession should be compelled to forget about his or her conscience or else depart from the profession. However I don’t have any sympathy with chemists’ legal restictive trade practices. The sooner prescriptions are allowed to be sold in supermarkets by qualified pharmacist employees the better. As well I see no reason why the marketing of “advice only” non-prescription drugs can’t be sold in suprmarkets provided the face-to-face must be performed by a qualified person. The current system is pharma socialism, similar to the Nationals agrarian socialism.

Homer, you appear to have been weaned away from the lefty stance I used to remember you having in your occasional lucid (admittedly rare) comments of a year or two back. Please explain your journey. On the other hand, please don’t.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Once again this problem is caused by too much government intervention in trade. If there was no prescription system, anyone and everyone could stock RU486. You could buy it from your corner shop.

The catholic chemist may not have it, but his sentiments are probably not shared by the Chinese family who run the deli next door.

The “advice required” system is bullshit too. I am asthmatic and can only buy ventolin inhalers from a chemist because government regulations stipulate that they can’t sell me a ventolin without asking “Do you have your asthma regularly monitored by a doctor”. I shit you not.

So of course I simply lie and tell them I have regular checkups, and they sell me the inhaler. I wonder if someone can draw me a graph that represents the dead-weight loss of forcing pharmacists to act as our surrogate mothers.

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