February 25, 2005
Arizona women won’t have to search around to find a friendly pharmacist to get their birth control pills.
The House of Representatives gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill certain prescriptions if it would violate their moral or religious beliefs.
But the vote on HB2541 came only after Rep. Doug Quelland, R-Phoenix, agreed to remove a controversial provision that would have included oral contraceptives in that list. Now, the measure permits pharmacists to refuse to dispense only two kinds of medications: RU-486, which can abort a fetus, and the "morning after" pill, which blocks ovulation or prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Quelland said he recognizes that doctors prescribe birth control pills for reasons other than preventing contraception. For example, he said, a woman may need them to resolve bleeding problems.
He acknowledged, though, that he could not get the votes for his legislation
the way he originally wanted it.
"It’s a political reality," conceded Ron Johnson, a lobbyist for the Arizona Catholic Conference, which represents the views of the bishops of the three dioceses in Arizona and helped craft the measure.
Even with that change, though, several lawmakers said they still find the proposal objectionable.
Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said the morning after pill already is not available at one-third of pharmacies in the state. She said the problem is especially acute in rural areas.
"These women will not have access to emergency contraception if they’ve been raped," Lopez said. The result, she said, is that a woman would either have to carry the child or be forced to undergo an abortion, a more dangerous procedure.
Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, said the legislation allows pharmacists "to put their personal beliefs ahead of the needs of their patients."
One key objection to the bill is that a pharmacist who refuses to dispense the drugs is not required to refer the patient to someone else — either in the same store or elsewhere — who will fill the prescription.
Johnson said there could be no compromise on that because making a referral enables the woman to get the drugs. And that, he said, is morally the same as the pharmacist supplying the drugs himself or herself.
Quelland argued that referrals are not necessary because said women realize they can get prescriptions filled elsewhere. Even in rural areas, he said, there are mail-order pharmacies.
Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, said the legislation remains unacceptable because it is designed to deal with the views of one religion that finds abortion unacceptable.
"It is not the role of the government of the state of Arizona to step in and rule which religion shall and shall not rule and dominate our system of government,’’ he said.
The measure still requires a final roll-call vote before going to the Senate.