Contraception Crackdown

Georgians trying to fill a prescription for emergency contraception - or even birth control pills - might want to make sure their pharmacist is morally comfortable dispensing such drugs.

Georgia pharmacists can refuse to fill morning-after and birth control prescriptions if such medication violates their personal or religious beliefs. What's more, in the next legislative session there could be a warmer reception for a bill backing a pharmacist's right to refuse morning-after pills.

A state Senate bill that would make pharm-acists impervious to lawsuits or termination if they refused to dole out emergency contraceptives didn't make it to a vote this year. But the author of the legislation, Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, says he's confident a similar bill will have clout in the 2006 General Assembly.

"I have friends that are pharmacists who asked me to look into this," Whitehead says. "I personally feel pharmacists need to know they don't have to do something if they don't think it's right."

Leola Reis, vice president of communications for of Georgia, says Whitehead's bill violates the relationship between physician and patient. "Someone interceding between a physician's recommendation for his or her patient, especially with something like emergency contraception, is ridiculous," Reis says.

Even without the legislation, Georgia pharmacists can refuse to fill certain prescriptions, says Wayne Oliver, vice president of professional relations and governmental affairs for the Georgia Pharmacy Association. However, if pharmacists refuse medication, they are supposed to refer the patient to another pharmacy, Oliver says. Last year, a Smyrna pharmacist made headlines when she refused to refill a woman's birth control and kept the prescription, failing to refer the patient to another store.

Oliver says he doesn't believe there are widespread problems with prescription refusal in Georgia. The actual number of prescriptions turned away is unknown.

Still, other states seem to be more sympathetic to the trend of refusing to fill emergency contraceptive and, in some cases, birth control prescriptions. Four states are considering laws that would penalize pharmacists for failing to fill such prescriptions. Leave it to Georgia to do the exact opposite and push for legislation to protect pharmacists from sanctions.??

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