Black mark on the red dot?

Please, Target, dont make us have to boycott!

Published October 27, 2005 7:09PM (EDT)

Broadsheet recently received the following e-mail alert from Planned Parenthood:

"Imagine walking into a pharmacy with a prescription and being told by the pharmacist, 'I won't fill it. It's my right not to fill it.' It's outrageous to think this is possible, but this is exactly what happened to a 26-year-old woman who presented a prescription for emergency contraception at a Target in Fenton, MO, on September 30."

You can bet she didn't stick around to buy a cute lamp.

If this were about Wal-Mart, we'd be yawning. But Target! Target! Our beloved source of bulk socks, funky bedspreads and slightly wobbly furniture! Do something, Mr. Mizrahi!

Planned Parenthood, as part of its Fill My Pills Now campaign, has actually been trying to get Target to clarify its position on emergency contraception since last year; until now, Target had not responded to its requests. Now -- after receiving over 60,000 e-mails in response to alerts such as the above -- Target has at least showed up at the table.

Yet Jackie Payne, assistant director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Broadsheet that a conference call with Target VPs yesterday yielded "no affirmative change." Target's current policy allows a pharmacist to refuse to prescribe if he or she refers the patient to another pharmacy. Not good enough, says Planned Parenthood (never mind the fact that in the case of the Missouri woman, a Planned Parenthood patient, it was only the cowed pharmacy assistant who whispered that she might want to try Walgreen's). "We just can't tolerate sending women away. A woman on a bus with three kids in the snow -- this is real life, and that's not acceptable," says Payne. "We don't object to a policy that accommodates pharmacists, but they must do so in a way such that when customers show up, it's seamless. You know, have someone else on duty. Figure it out." Target's VPs said they'd give it some thought.

Target did not return Broadsheet's phone calls, but the company has disputed the circumstances of the incident.

There are other signs that Target's seeing red. If you e-mailed the company to complain last week, you got a nice auto-response message saying, "Like many other retailers, Target has a policy that ensures a guest's prescription for emergency contraception is filled, whether at Target or at a different pharmacy, in a timely and respectful manner. This policy meets the health care needs of our guests while respecting the diversity of our team members." And if you e-mailed the company this week? "Target is extremely disappointed that Planned Parenthood is spreading misleading information about an alleged incident at a Target pharmacy in Missouri and our policies on emergency contraception. The accounts being reported are inaccurate and exaggerated. Our policy is comparable to that of many other national retailers and the recommendations of the American Pharmacists Association." This response also describes the policy as consistent with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; for full excoriation, see AmericaBlog. (Should you receive Target's e-mail, the Winding Sheet offers a suggested response.)

Oh, Target. It's like we don't even know you anymore. I mean, unless you count your donations to various Republican causes, and being a mom-and-pop-and-tree-destroying big-box store in the first place, you really do all sorts of nice things. Payne of Planned Parenthood believes that our collective crush on Target has definitely fueled this uproar. "I said this to them on the phone: Everyone loves Tar-zhay! It's like, of all the stores! Target has positioned itself as the hip cool thirtysomething place to be; it's supposed to be our 'sistah.' But after all the stuff Target's done to position itself as a good community member, this feels like a slap in the face."

In other emergency contraception news:

Bad: A victim of sexual assault in Tuscon spent three frantic days trying to find a pharmacy that stocked Plan B emergency contraception (key word: emergency). She finally succeeded, only to be informed that the pharmacist would, for moral and religious reasons, refuse to dispense it. The Arizona Daily Star reports that "a 2004 survey of over 900 Arizona pharmacies found less than half keep emergency contraception drugs in stock, with most saying there is too little demand." Surely that's not because women are made to feel too bad to ask.

Better. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the Alaska State Medical board voted down a proposal that would require women seeking emergency contraception to see a doctor for a prescription. OK, not even the FDA requires a doctor's visit. Given that the pills need to be taken as soon as possible to be effective -- and that most of us have spent five days in our doctors' offices waiting to be seen, never mind getting the appointment (or the cost!) -- it's clear that the proposal had nothing whatsoever to do with the well-being of women. Props to the board for seeing through it.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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