Democratic lawmakers: Getting birth control should be as easy as "ABC"

Recently reintroduced legislation could keep pharmacists from refusing to fill women's birth control prescriptions

Published February 15, 2013 8:32PM (EST)

                           (Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

While the White House and the Catholic Church continue to slug it out over whether private, for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby should have to provide their employees with federally mandated birth control, two Democratic lawmakers are hoping to ease one roadblock to women's access to contraception: Pharmacists.

In an effort to standardize pharmacies' procedures for filling prescriptions for birth control, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have reintroduced the “Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act." It's the same bill the politicians tried to get through previous legislative sessions, but these two are clearly Charlie-Brown-and-the-football types, and are optimistically giving it another shot.

“This legislation would prevent a pharmacy from interfering in the personal medical decisions made by a patient and her doctor," Lautenberg said in a press release. "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.”

Here's how it works, according to Lautenberg (emphasis mine):

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.

Having a law on the books will help prevent some of the access problems caused when pharmacies can self-regulate around dispensing birth control. While some chains have taken it upon themselves to ensure that women can reliably fill their prescriptions, too many others have not. And since, nationally, only seven states guarantee that women’s birth control prescriptions will be filled, a little industry-wide consistency could go a long way.

The lawmakers are trying to strike a balance between religious objections to contraception and the rights of the women who shouldn't have to care what their pharmacists think about their use of birth control. Because, to quote the wise women of Salt n' Peppa, it's none of their business.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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