Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12) reintroduced legislation to protect a woman's fundamental right of access to legal contraception. Lautenberg's and Maloney's bill, the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act, would prevent pharmacies from denying the sale of contraceptives because of a pharmacy employee's religious beliefs. Because of the importance of birth control for women's preventive health care, new health insurance requirements under the Affordable Care Act now make birth control available to women without copays.
"This legislation would prevent a pharmacy from interfering in the personal medical decisions made by a patient and her doctor," Sen. Lautenberg said. "Birth control is basic health care for women and Obamacare has removed financial hurdles for millions of women; we can't allow other obstacles to be placed in their way. By guaranteeing that women can access birth control at every pharmacy in the country, we can ensure that women are never denied the right to make responsible decisions about their reproductive health."
"Virtually every American woman uses birth control at some point in their lives. And under the Affordable Care Act, they are covered for contraception prescriptions with zero co-pays," Rep. Maloney said. "The last thing any woman needs is to be denied their prescriptions or Plan B at the pharmacy. This bill puts the decision-making where it belongs: with the woman."
According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, 99 percent of women in the United States use contraception at some point in their lives, and 82 percent of women use prescription methods. Despite the prevalence of contraceptive use, women in at least 24 states across the country have reported incidents in recent years where they have been denied access to birth control and emergency contraception.
The Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act strikes a balance between the rights of individual pharmacists who might have personal objections to contraception and the rights of women to receive their medication. The bill protects the right of individual pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription, but also ensures that pharmacies will fill all prescriptions, even if a different pharmacist has to do it. In addition, if the requested product is not in stock, but the pharmacy stocks other forms of contraception, the bill mandates that the pharmacy help the woman obtain the medication without delay by the method of her preference: order, referral, or a transferred prescription.
The bill is supported by NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Women's Law Center, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The Senate bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The House bill has 15 co-sponsors.