Missouri, Show Some Legislative Sanity

Pamela Merritt

There's a whole lot of inaccuracy wrapped up in the so-called pharmacy protection bill being considered in Missouri. The bill not only seeks to protect pharmacies from legal action resulting from the refusal to sell a drug they can't sell -- it also reclassifies emergency contraception as an abortifacient.

I wish I were surprised that the Missouri House of Representatives would consider a bill that would protect the rights of pharmacies over the rights of Missourians, but I'm not. After watching the blatant attack on choice that was HB 1055 become law, this Missouri native knows better than to doubt Missouri legislators' willingness to pursue the illogical. HB 1625 would protect pharmacies that refuse to fill prescriptions that aren't even available through a pharmacy. It would also protect them should they refuse to fill a prescription for emergency contraception, which the bill incorrectly categorizes as an abortifacient, due to a moral objection to the abortion emergency contraception will not cause.

No, I'm not kidding. There's a whole lot of inaccuracy wrapped up in this so-called pharmacy protection bill. HB 1625 not only seeks to protect pharmacies from legal action resulting from the refusal to sell the FDA-approved abortifacient drug (not applicable because Mifeprex is not sold or distributed through pharmacies) but it would also reclassify emergency contraception as an abortifacient (not even close to accurate because emergency contraception, which is sold as Plan B, was approved by the FDA as contraception).

As Lynn Harris reported at Salon.com's Broadsheet, there are a multitude of things wrong with HB 1625. But it has some sharp teeth and its anti-choice bite would be vicious should it become law.

Let's start with the facts.

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Emergency contraception (Plan B) is not an abortifacient. Plan B is a contraceptive. Mifeprex, which is approved by the FDA as an abortifacient, is not available through a pharmacy. Mifeprex is available only under a strict Provider Agreement between the manufacturer and the abortion provider and is a safe alternative to surgical abortion used to terminate early abortions.

A review of HB 1625 shows that it would extend legal protection to any pharmacy from civil, criminal, professional, or other action if the pharmacy refuses to dispense any "drug or device drug or device that is an abortifacient, including but not limited to the RU486 drug and emergency contraception such as the Plan B drug."

HB 1625 seeks to protect pharmacies from legal liability resulting from a pharmacist's refusal to distribute Mifeprex, which is not even available through a pharmacy. It also seeks to equate contraception with abortion despite the fact that emergency contraception will not work if a woman is already pregnant.

Obviously a pharmacy can not not fill a prescription that it would never be asked to fill, so the inclusion of Mifeprex in HB 1625 makes no sense. It appears that HB 1625 may actually be about protecting a pharmacy should it decide that it has a moral objection to filling a prescription for emergency contraception.

But can a pharmacy have a moral objection?

No, it can not and Pamela Sumners, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, explains why. "The main thing about this is, number one you can not transplant a conscience into a corporation and then purport to protect it," she says. "The first is an impossibility and, since the first is an impossibility, the second is a meaningless gesture. Number two, this bill is just flat earth science. To equate RU486 with Emergency Contraception is scientifically false and would make Missouri the only state in the nation to defy the FDA."

Okay, so Missouri pharmacists can't require protection from legal action taken should they refuse to fill a prescription they would never be asked to fill. Missouri pharmacists can not have a moral objection to emergency contraception because it is not an abortifacient and the pharmacy they work for does not have a conscience to protect.

Don't get me wrong, someone is in need of protection in the pharmacy to consumer relationship. You guessed it – women! Michelle Trupiano, MSW, who is Lobbyist and Mid-Missouri Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri, points out that HB 1625 is really an attempt to limit the availability of emergency contraception (also referred to under its brand name, Plan B). One pharmacy's refusal to fill prescriptions for Plan B could leave thousands of Missouri women without a back up to birth control.

This bill would also impact women who seek emergency contraception after sexual assault. Colleen Coble, Director of Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, stressed the serious ramifications of this bill for victims of sexual assault. "In a case where your body has become a crime scene, where you have undergone an incredibly invasive examination to gather evidence, (this bill) would make you travel four counties away to avoid becoming pregnant by the person who violently attacked you. This is an issue of health care. It's an issue of decency," Coble said, according to the Kansas City Star.

Missourians can add HB 1720, sponsored by Representative Talboy, to the chorus of activists speaking out against HB 1625. HB 1720 seeks to clarify the duty pharmacies have to fill all lawful prescriptions and to make sure that persons of legal age purchasing emergency contraception over-the-counter (OTC) are served as they would be for any other OTC medicine.

The Missouri House needs to act quickly on HB 1720 and show me and my fellow Missourians some legislative sanity.

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