Eye On Olympia

Governor’s “compromise”: Pharmacists must dispense Plan B pill…

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who was appalled when the state pharmacy board earlier this year proposed allowing druggists, out of religious objections, to deny women morning-after birth control pills, has proposed an alternative.

The board had proposed a so-called "refuse and refer" rule, allowing pharmacists to decline to fill such a prescription on the grounds that it's akin to abortion. Instead, they would have to refer the woman to another druggist -- or another drugstore -- to get it.

Gregoire and women's health advocates blasted the rule, saying that such a decision should be between a woman and her doctor, not a pharmacist.

So Gregoire's proposed a new rule says that pharmacists must dispense a lawful drug unless:
-there's a worry about the medicine conflicting with other medications the patient's taking,
-a national or state emergency means the drug is unavailable,
-lack of special equipment or expertise for dispensing such a drug,
-the prescription might be fake,
-or, despite good-faith compliance with state laws ("The pharmacy must maintain at all times a representative assortment of drugs in order to meet the pharmaceutical needs of its patients," from WAC 246-869-150), the drug is simply not in stock then.

"This alternative represents many hours of negotiation to delicately balance our respect for patients, pharmacists and pharmacies," Gregoire wrote to pharmacy board chairman Assad Awan. Despite hours of negotiations, she said, she "was not able to reach full accord with" with proponents of a right to refuse, on conscience, filling a particular prescription.

"I strongly recommend that the Board of Pharmacy adopt this finely negotiated version, without amendment, at your August 31st meeting," Gregoire told the board.

Plan B, which is actually a larger dose of a common birth-control-pill hormone, is not the same as RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill." According to Plan B manufacturer Duramed Pharmaceuticals, Plan B, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and reduces the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent. Like current birth control pills, it stops release of the egg from the ovary and may prevent fertilization. It will not, Duramed says, have any effect on an existing pregnancy.

Critics note that the pill -- like regular birth control, or nature -- can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Hence their objections to it.

Proponents of the drug argue that the drug, as effective birth control, will to prevent abortions.

The federal Food and Drug Administration may have released some of the political pressure over the prescription with a decision last week. The FDA has approved over-the-counter sales of Plan B, so long as the buyer is over age 18.




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