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Gloversville Pharmacist Should Be Disciplined For Refusing To Honor Prescriptions For EC Refills, NYCLU And Planned Parenthood

In a complaint filed on behalf of a health care provider at Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, the NYCLU today charged that a Rite Aid pharmacist who refused to fill a patient’s prescription for refill doses of Emergency Contraception (“EC”) should be disciplined by the New York State Board of Pharmacy for putting moralistic judgments before her professional responsibilities.

The NYCLU filed two similar complaints in August 2006, one of them against the same Rite Aid pharmacist after a similar incident with another customer. A companion complaint was filed against two additional pharmacists at a CVS in Saratoga Springs. Each of the three cases was filed on behalf of a prescribing Planned Parenthood provider who had prescribed EC, also known as the “morning after pill” or “Plan B,” to a woman who was his or her patient. When those women went to their local pharmacies to fill the prescriptions, the pharmacists filled the initial prescriptions but refused to recognize the refills that the prescribing providers had authorized. The pharmacists refused to honor the prescription refills not because of medical or religious principles but simply because they objected to the idea that a woman might need EC more than once.

“That this pharmacist refused to fulfill a refill for a second time in one year shows that she has a serious problem in fulfilling her professional obligations,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “This pharmacist obstructed a patient’s access to medication based on her own uninformed and biased opinions about that patient’s sexual activity.”

EC consists of a concentrated dose of hormonal contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy after an act of unprotected sexual intercourse, including sexual assault and intercourse where the contraceptive used failed. Studies have shown that EC is safe and effective, that there is no risk in taking it on more than one occasion, and that having access to the drug does not cause an increase in sexual risk-taking behaviors. EC does not cause an abortion or interfere with an established pregnancy.

“Writing EC prescriptions with refills is the standard of care,” said Dr. Marc Heller, medical director of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, a licensed physician and board certified obstetrician and gynecologist.

Because women often need EC on evenings and weekends, when doctors’ offices and clinics are closed, providers give women advance prescriptions so that they will be able to take the drug within the necessary timeframe (when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, EC is nearly 90% effective in reducing the risk for unintended pregnancy). Major medical associations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women’s Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that health care providers offer EC prescriptions during routine medical visits in order to provide patients with advance access.

“Pharmacists are authorized to alter prescriptions based on health concerns, such as potentially harmful drug interactions — but they don’t get to make decisions about whether or not patients deserve the drugs they have been prescribed,” said Galen Sherwin, Staff Attorney with the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project. “Pharmacists should be guided by sound medicine, not moralistic judgments.”

The complaints were filed before the New York State Office of the Professions, which has the authority to discipline licensed pharmacists. The complaints charge that the pharmacists exceeded the scope of their authority, breached their duty of care to the patients, and committed professional misconduct under the Board of Regents prohibition against “abandoning or neglecting a patient or client under and in need of immediate professional care, without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of such care.” The complaints also argue that failure to fill prescriptions for EC constitutes sex discrimination in violation of New York’s Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation.

Click here to read the complaint.

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