Pro-Choice Customers Strike Back
As some recent news headlines have illustrated, the ongoing battle between pro-choice customers with prescriptions for contraceptives and pro-life pharmacists refusing to dispense them, isn't about to end anytime soon. In fact, it appears that both sides of the pharmaceutical debate, both in government and in the private sector, are gearing up for a full-scale war, which could take months, possibly years, before any kind of resolution is reached. Which leaves pro-choice customers like you and me, who are still going to want our prescriptions for contraceptives filled, at a loss for options unless we can come up with a strong plan of action.
Since we cannot rely on some members of the pharmaceutical community to do their jobs – which is filling a customer's prescription written by her doctor – we as customers must do what is necessary to make sure our right to contraception isn't being hijacked by an anti-contraception moralist disguised as a "benevolent" pharmacist. All we need are a few sound strategies to ensure that our prescriptions for emergency contraception, birth control pills or other contraceptive methods won't be held hostage at the pharmacy counter.
Strategy #1 - Don't get caught unprepared, if you can possibly avoid it. If you're new in town and there are two or three different pharmacies available, you should try and do some advance research. Get the telephone number of each store location, and call ahead to ask what their policy is on filling contraceptive prescriptions. Should you get someone who is either unsure of the correct answer, or worse, is unwilling to give it to you, ask to speak to the manager. If you still get the run-around, or you're told that the store manager is unavailable, hang up and call the other stores instead. There's no reason to take unnecessary chances with a pharmacist who might not stock contraceptives or refuse to fill prescriptions for them. Once you find a store that gives you the answers you want, take your prescription to that location for dispensing.
Strategy #2 - Don't have your contraception prescription phoned in by your doctor's office unless you are absolutely, positively sure that the person receiving the call isn't going to refuse to fill it or deny releasing it to another store for dispensing at that location. If you don't know the pharmacy staff personally, your best bet is to ask your doctor to write out the standard prescription slip and take it with you.
Strategy #3 - Before handing your prescription slip to a pharmacist you don't know, make it a point to ask if he or she has a problem dispensing any prescriptions for contraceptive methods. If the answer is no, you can relax and hand it over for filling. If the pharmacist insists on looking at the slip first, or asks what it is for, you may want to consider the option of saying "never mind" and leaving the store to fill your prescription elsewhere, with the slip still in your hands or purse. Pro-life pharmacists insist they have a "right" to refuse to dispense contraceptives. However, customers have a right to deny them that refusal, by taking our business elsewhere.
Strategy #4 - Avoid going to the pharmacy at late-night hours, if at all possible. Sometimes, due to circumstances, customers have no other choice, but if you can, stick to regular pharmacy hours. If you work a typical nine-to-five business
day, try to get to the store before 6pm. The busier the store is, the better your chances are of having two or even three pharmacists working at that time instead of just one. Again, ask if the pharmacist will have a problem filling your contraceptive prescription before handing over your slip. There have been several cases, detailed in recent news stories, where a pro-life pharmacist not only refused to fill the customer's prescription, but also wouldn't release it back to her to have it filled at another location. You don't want that happening to you on a busy evening, possibly on a Friday, when your doctor won't be available until Monday. Don't hand the slip over until you get an answer that satisfies you; namely, that your prescription will be filled without any problems.
Strategy #5 - Avoid relying on just one source for emergency contraception, birth control pills or other contraceptive methods. There's always a risk when you put all of your proverbial "eggs" in one basket, pun intended. Specifically, pharmacies can suddenly change their policy from pro-choice to pro-life, or a clinic you relied on for years is about to be shut down. You don't want to be left without a way to get your contraceptive needs taken care of. Find out which other pharmacies or women's clinics dispense contraception, and keep names, addresses and phone numbers of each location in your address book. When you have two or three choices available, it isn't a disaster if one of those options is eliminated for any reason.
Despite the courageous moves of pro-choice governors in several states to file bills requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions for those of us who want to avoid getting pregnant, it is clear that some are going to refuse, regardless of the consequences or penalties involved. Pharmacists For Life, headed by President Karen Brauer, is encouraging their members to ignore these bills, stating their right to deny contraception on religious or moral grounds trumps that of the customer – you and me – to obtain it. To date, three pro-life pharmacists in Illinois have filed lawsuits against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, citing that his bill has denied them the right to "exercise their conscience" in the matter of contraception prescriptions. Whether those suits will be settled in favor of the Governor or the pharmacists is anyone's guess at this point. Until some resolution or compromise is reached that will make both sides happy, we owe it to ourselves to utilize strategies that will work best for us. After all, they aren't the ones that could end up with an unwanted pregnancy if or when they choose to let us down. We are.