Your Pharmacist Shouldn’t Determine Whether You Can Get Your Birth Control

As a physician, I am somewhat adept at navigating the health care system. And yet, the pandemic has made it substantially harder for me to get a prescription for my birth control. I had to set up a telehealth appointment and figure out how to take my vital signs so that the physician assistant would feel comfortable writing me a birth control prescription. To say I would have been irate had a pharmacy tried to refuse the birth control I worked so hard to secure would have been an understatement. But this happens to people, even though you and your health care provider know what is best for your health. When you bring a prescription for birth control to a pharmacy, you should expect to leave the pharmacy with your birth control in hand. But that is not always the case.  

Pharmacies in at least 26 states have refused to provide a person’s birth control based on personal beliefs of pharmacy employees. Sometimes pharmacy employees refuse to fill a prescription, other times they refuse to sell over-the-counter medications like emergency contraception (EC). Senator Booker and Representative Maloney, along with Senator Murray and Representatives Porter and Kelly, have introduced the Access to Birth Control Act (ABC Act) that would put an end to these practices. This bill would make sure people who go the pharmacy for birth control get the care they need in a timely and respectful manner.  

Making sure people can access their birth control without barriers is especially important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has made it more difficult for people to access medical care, required people to shelter in place, and increased child care and household responsibilities—all making it harder to access birth control. Over half of women reported barriers in accessing birth control during the pandemic, and almost a quarter of women are not using their preferred method of birth control because of COVID-19.  

When pharmacy employees refuse to provide birth control, they are not doing so based on facts or science but based on personal beliefs, which are often based on falsehoods, like EC causes abortions. When people intentionally mix up birth control and abortion, they are trying to prey on abortion stigma. And really, they’re doing that as a fallback because they don’t know how else to attack something that is as popular as birth control. Birth control helps people live dignified lives so they can exercise their autonomy and decide if and when to become pregnant.  

Birth control is basic health care, and people seeking birth control should not be shamed at the pharmacy by a refusal. Despite birth control being safe and popular, there continue to be needless barriers to accessing it. We must continue to break down these barriers, and the Access to Birth Control Act is one way Congress can do that. 

 If you have experienced a pharmacy refusal, please contact the National Women’s Law Center at 1-866-PILL4US.