Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wal-Mart bows to Plan B. Sort of

In response to political pressure from state governments, Wal-Mart has announced plans to carry Plan B in its 3,700 pharmacies nationwide.

With a catch: under a conscience clause, pharmacists will retain the right to refer customers seeking Plan B to another pharmacist -- or, if they are the only available provider, to another pharmacy altogether.

Wal-Mart's press release claims the right of conscientious objection to be "consistent" with the tenets of the American Pharmaceutical Association. And it is. In testimony before the House in 2005, association member Linda MacLean clarified APhA's policy:
APhA's policy supports the ability of a pharmacist to opt out of dispensing a prescription or providing a service for personal reasons and also supports the establishment of systems so that the patient's access to appropriate health care is not disrupted [...]  [O]ur policy supports a pharmacist 'stepping away' from participating but not 'stepping in the way' of the patient accessing the therapy.
The distinction between "stepping away" and "stepping in the way" is well and good for those of us who live near pharmacies not named Wal-Mart (or Sam's Club). But what about towns where Wal-Mart is the only pharmacy around (given that they've driven local pharmacies out of business)? Towns where the moral climate brings public hostility to bear on pharmacists? The options for poor, young, or uneducated women -- arguably, those most likely to seek emergency contraception -- start to look exceedingly slim.

Wal-Mart's change of heart is a fan-friendly one. Just not to those who need it most.

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