Here's some good news: Planned Parenthood reports that Wal-Mart has just joined the ranks of Eckerd, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens in being considered "women friendly." Yes, you heard that right.
According to this press release,Wal-Mart just returned a survey to Planned Parenthood's Fill My Pills Now campaign that contains the following promises: Customers will receive their prescriptions or OTC products in stores "without discrimination (no harassment or lectures)," "without delay" and "without judgment." It has promised to stock emergency contraception in every store where "one or more customers request the product" and, should emergency contraception not be in stock in a particular store, take steps to help customers obtain it.
Planned Parenthood says this represents a change in the company's policies. But Kevin Gardner, the Wal-Mart rep who filled out the survey, disagrees with Planned Parenthood's wording. According to Gardner, Wal-Mart has had a policy of stocking emergency contraception by prescription since March 2006, when it lost a lawsuit on the issue -- and it has offered emergency contraception over the counter since December 2006 to customers who are over 18. So in other words, in filling out the survey for Planned Parenthood, it was affirming policies that already were in place.
So what, exactly, is going on? According to Planned Parenthood's Erin Kiernon, Planned Parenthood had documented numerous instances in which women, sent to check up on emergency contraception availability at Wal-Mart, had been denied medication by Wal-Mart pharmacists. (The pharmacists also refused to find someone else in the store to fill the prescription.) Also, despite its agreement to dispense emergency contraception, Wal-Mart lacked a written policy on the subject. Planned Parenthood confronted Wal-Mart on the issue and sent it a survey -- basically a list of statements related to emergency contraception that Wal-Mart could answer either yes or no to -- in an attempt to force Wal-Mart to put something into writing. And apparently Planned Parenthood's attempts succeeded: Not only has WalMart put its policies down on paper, but it has promised to require that "conscientious objectors" -- that is, employees with personal objections toward emergency contraception -- must find someone else in the store who can provide the pills.
"We think it's an incredibly significant change," said Kiernon. "Wal-Mart's policies are now enforceable since they now exist in writing. Our hope is that they'll actually enforce them."
We hope so too.