Walgreens has agreed to review its pharmacy policy after multiple male customers from around the country have come forward with stories of Walgreens pharmacists who refused to sell them emergency contraception.
FDA guidelines allow men and women over the age of 17 to purchase most forms of emergency contraception, including Plan B, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel, from pharmacists without a prescription from a medical provider. But some Walgreens pharmacists have reportedly denied men access to emergency contraception, on the basis of their gender alone.
Some pharmacists mistakenly claim that it is illegal to sell E.C. to men. Others refuse to sell E.C. to men for personal reasons. (One pharmacist claimed she feared that the man would use E.C. in an attempted rape.)
Men have reported contraception refusals at Walgreens stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. But this isn’t just happening at Walgreens. Men have reported being turned away from pharmacies at multiple CVS stores in Texas, Target Superstore in Oklahoma, K-mart in New Mexico, Rite Aid in New Jersey and Costco in Alaska.
Laws regulating pharmacists vary state by state. Eight states explicitly require pharmacists to provide medication to patients, while six states have laws on the books that allow pharmacists to refuse to provide medication for religious or moral reasons, without any protections for patients such as required referrals or transfers of prescriptions.Pharmacists in Illinois are currently fighting in the courts for the right to refuse to sell women prescribed birth control pills due to personally held religious beliefs (an appeals court ruled in their favor in September), but this case is different because the pharmacists are not making religious claims. Advocacy organizations like the ACLU have sent demand letters to pharmacies, including Walgreens, warning that they may file gender discrimination claims the companies for practicing discrimination in a public accommodation.
Some may argue the pharmacists are doing their part to prevent domestic abuse. Last week, ACOG even issued a guidance to doctors to screen women for “contraception sabotage” during gynecological visits. But where does the line between due diligence and gender discrimination get drawn?
Certainly not every man who purchases E.C. uses it nefariously. Many men are helping a partner who has other commitments after another method of birth control has failed, like a broken condom or a missed pill. Not every relationship involves just the woman taking care of reproductive planning. (Nor should it!)
Emergency contraception is a time-sensitive drug; its effectiveness decreases every 12 hours after intercourse. Refusals at pharmacies based on gender can cause serious harm to couples trying to plan their reproductive lives. Walgreens is taking a step in the right direction by reviewing their pharmacy refusal policy and taking measures to educate their pharmacists. But whether it's litigation or legislative action, more must be done to stop individual pharmacists from interfering in couples' reproductive decisions.