Further assault on reproductive rights of US women

// 19 April 2005

Pursuant to recent attempts by the evangelical Christian right in America to outlaw abortion, reports have been coming through recently of pharmacists refusing to complete prescriptions for the Morning After Pill (MAP), and even the contraceptive pill where it “goes against their religious and moral convictions”.

There are reported incidences of pharmacists refusing to return a pill prescription, preventing women from obtaining the pill elsewhere.

The growing controversy is prompting state legislatures to consider whether pharmacists should be compelled to supply the MAP when presented with a doctor’s prescription. Arizona has recently legislated in favour of ‘the pharmacist’s right to choose’, whilst Illinois has ordered pharmacists to dispense prescriptions “immediately and without question”.

Unlike in Britain where over-the-counter sales of Levonelle (the morning after pill) have been legalised, in America a doctor’s prescription is still required, limiting the impact of individual pharmacists’ actions. However, if pressure to allow on-demand provision of the MAP is successful, pharmacists may have significantly more scope to impede women’s access to emergency contraception.

This story has rolled on for a very long time now (there were similar reports last year during the US Presidential elections) but I find it deeply worrying that the issue is gaining increasing momentum in Middle America – and maybe even Middle England.

Opponents of the MAP argue variously that, as it is can cause a very early chemical abortion, it is immoral, or that it encourages reckless behaviour by women. In the UK, 55% of Daily Mail readers polled online believe that the MAP “encourages casual, unprotected sex”.

This is an issue to watch with concern in America, and we should pay particular attention to rumblings in this country along similar lines. Where America leads we are all too frequently swift to follow. For better or for worse.

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