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Texas Legislature to Mull Emergency Contraception, Both Sides Rally Round

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: The American College of Gynecologists is asking the Food and Drug Administration to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter. Currently, the FDA requires a prescription for the so-called morning after pill, which can be administered within 72 hours of rape or unprotected sex. The Texans for Life Coalition wants to restrict access to emergency contraception, because they believe it could cause a chemical abortion, according to president Kyleen Wright.

Kyleen Wright, President, Texans for Life Coalition: If fertilization has already occurred, it works to prevent implantation and make the womb inhospitable, and that is what makes it an abortifacient. That is what many pharmacists would object to. They're aware of this effect of the drug, and it may be legal for women to do that and for doctors to prescribe that, but no one should be compelled to participate.

Cuellar: Emily Snooks, communications director for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, which provides abortion services and the morning after pill, says that the law is clear, and emergency contraception is not an abortion pill.

Emily Snooks, Director of Communications, Planned Parenthood of North Texas: RU-486 is the abortion pill. That is administered only under a doctor's care in front of a doctor in a doctor's office. So no woman will ever go to a pharmacy asking for an abortion pill. Emergency contraception, or more commonly known as the morning after pill, is just a higher dose of birth control pills. Emergency contraception or the morning after pill will not end a pregnancy.

Cuellar: Legally pregnancy begins with implantation of a fertilized egg in a woman's uterus. But to anti-abortion activists, life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm meet. The language of House Bill 16 is broad, defining emergency contraception as "a prescription drug containing an elevated dose of hormones that is used to prevent pregnancy." If passed, it could be interpreted to offer as much protection to the Denton pharmacist who declined to fill a rape victim's emergency contraception prescription last February as to the North Richland Hills pharmacist who declined to fill a married woman's birth control pill prescription last March. Wright backs the pharmacists.

Wright: We want pharmacists to have the same right of refusal that doctors and nurses have had for 25 years. There's no shortage of pharmacies or pharmacists. A woman is free to walk across the street in a great number of cases and choose a different pharmacist.

Cuellar: Snooks says the law unfairly jeopardizes women's reproductive rights, especially in rural areas.

Snooks: What if you live in Paris or Jacksonville, Texas and there's only one pharmacy and you've gone through the humiliation of going up to the counter with your prescription and you're told that your prescription won't be filled because they don't agree with it? Then what is that woman supposed to do? Drive 60 miles to another pharmacy?

Cuellar: The Texas Pharmacy Association hasn't taken a side on House Bill 16. But the TPA's director of public affairs, Kristie Zamrazil, says they are willing to work with legislators to help protect both patients' and pharmacists' rights.

Kristie Zamrazil, Director of Public Affairs, Texas Pharmacy Association: The emphasis is on providing patient care. As long as pharmacists who morally object to dispensing any drug makes a prior notification or arrangements so that patients can get the care they need, I think pharmacists can heed their moral values and patient care will be insured.

Cuellar: The definition of prior notification and provisions for alternatives in case of moral objections could be added after the bill goes to committee. The state legislature convenes next week.


Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.

House Bill 16 - Text

Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Inc.

Texans For Life Coalition

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - Press Release on Emergency Contraception

Texas Pharmacy Association