« When the Culture Weighs In | Main | Interview with Claudia Kauffman, Candidtate for State Senate »

June 02, 2006

Board of Pharmacy Fiasco

The right-wing war on contraception is now being waged here in Washington State.  Yesterday, the state Board of Pharmacy endorsed a vaguely worded proposal that allows pharmacists the “right” to decline to fill prescriptions that are in conflict with their beliefs. 

Although we could make a mockery of their intentions and mull over what pharmacists might choose to decline – unmarried men with prescriptions for Viagra? People too undisciplined to exercise who take appetite suppressants?  Teenagers with skin disorders desperate to rid themselves of acne?  It’s clear that this, like other attempts around the country, is designed to decrease a woman’s right to get emergency contraceptive medication. 

What We Have Now

Both the Times and the PI have articles up on yesterday’s action by the Board of Pharmacy.  It’s not pretty.  Here’s the essence from the PI article:

The proposal gives pharmacists the right to decline prescriptions that are in conflict with their beliefs.

The ruling is the result of a long-running controversy about Plan B, the emergency contraceptive -- also known as the morning-after pill.

According to Josh Feit at the Slog, who has been covering this issue pretty consistently, the five voting members of the Board voted unanimously for this:

Pharmacists and Pharmacy ancillary personnel shall not obstruct a patient in obtaining a lawfully prescribed drug or device….If a pharmacist cannot dispense a lawfully prescribed drug or device than the pharmacist must provide timely alternatives for the patient to obtaining treatment. Alternatives may include: Referring to another onsite pharmacist, transferring the prescription to another pharmacy, providing the medication at another time, consulting with provider about an alternative, return the unfilled lawful prescription, provide the patient a timely alternative. . .

This proposal is a mishmash of the two contradictory proposals presented at the May meeting.  I expect they were trying to walk a line between competing proposals and in true Northwest fashion, didn’t want to get anyone upset.  As a result, we have a messy proposal which could allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions they don't want to fill and to turn away patients with legal prescriptions.

The Backstory

Following the May meeting, the Olympian discussed the two draft proposals with Amy Luftig, deputy director of public policy for Planned Parenthood:

We have two drafts. One says a pharmacist shall fill. The other proscribes what a pharmacist should do if he or she chooses not to fill. The second one gives no guidance to the pharmacist on when they may or may not fill.

Over 6600 letters and calls flooded into the Board of Pharmacy, almost all supporting the proposal which would require a pharmacist to fill all legal prescriptions presented to them.

The second of the two May proposals, proposed by the State Pharmacy Association and offered by board member Donna Dockter, a Seattle-area pharmacist, addresses the new notion of “pharmacist’s rights”. 

The Olympian talked to Steve Saxe, executive director of the pharmacy panel a few weeks ago, who said, “the alternative rule proposal offers a broader look at a pharmacist’s discretion and different ways a pharmacist might lawfully decide against filling a prescription.”

The PI article notes something that Rod Shafer, executive director of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, said earlier this year.  “Pharmacists should have the right to decline work that conflicts with their beliefs as long as they respect the patient”. The PI goes on to say, “C.J. Kahler, past president of the association, said the rule endorsed Thursday properly respects the rights of both patients and drug providers.”

Well, I guess that’s what happened yesterday.  Pay no attention to the public, the governor or the rights of the folks standing in front of you with legal prescriptions.    

Part of a National Campaign

In the above-mentioned PI article, it was reported:

Women throughout the U.S. have reported pharmacists who refused to fill their prescriptions for the contraceptive, and other states have taken action. In 2005, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered pharmacies to fill all prescriptions for the pill. In Massachusetts, Wal-Mart was required to stock emergency contraception.

This is getting to be sort of familiar.  I expect that we will soon learn that the national Pharmacy Associations are being given huge amounts of money by right-wing foundations to push this lousy new “right” for pharmacists.  It reminds me of “Intelligent Design”, a made-up idea designed to hide the real intent, in this case to make contraception less and less available outside the urban areas.  It’s sickening to me that we are dealing with this in 2006.

What Comes Next

The proposal faces additional public scrutiny before taking effect and could be altered before the next Board meeting, currently scheduled for August 31.

The Governor, who strongly opposes the proposed new rule, may be able to influence the Board.  She may well not reappoint the worst offender, Donna Dockter, whose current term is up in January.  And the legislature is likely to weigh in, also in January. 

Then too, “Intelligent Design” didn’t do too well in the marketplace of ideas and neither will this.  We have an election coming this fall and this issue, along with the ill-conceived Republican war on immigration, might just consign the Republicans to the political dustbin in Washington State for a decade or so.

We will be hearing more about this.  And there will be concerted action to take.

p.s.  In doing research for this story, I noted that there is a NW regional pharmacists' conference next weekend.  If any friendly pharmacist have a mind to let us know what happens there, please do. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 2, 2006 at 10:23 AM in Policy | Permalink


Lynn - great post, as usual. I'm really becoming addicted to your blog.

Our strategy should not only be to flood the pharmacy board with letters and calls of fervent opposition during the "comment period", but to demand that Gregoire issue an executive order nullifying the rule. It's really about time she showed what she is made of when it comes to social and - dare I say it - Contitutional issues. Because this is really all about equal protection under the law. And access to medical care is not something women (or anyone) should ever have to give up due to a few religious extremists, buoyed by a governor terrified of offending the frauds who call themselves Christians. Gregoire's line is that she deems the ruling "unacceptable", but where was she while the decision was being made?

The political failings of middle-of-the-road Dems is just making me more radicalized by the moment.

Posted by: mickey | Jun 2, 2006 10:22:02 PM

Thanks, Mickey

I think Gregoire was just hoping this wouldn't become the issue it has. So now we see what she does with it. And yes, I agree. It's up to us to become the decision-making Democrats so that our elected either go with us or get out of the way.

Posted by: Lynn | Jun 3, 2006 11:00:45 AM

Good job, here and there!!! Keep it up, I like your guestbook!!! Please add your comments at my :)

Posted by: Shwimmer | Jun 1, 2007 10:11:08 AM

Post a comment