Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Now That Plan B Is Available To All Women, Conservatives Want To Restrict It On The State Level

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration dropped its fight to restrict over-the-counter emergency contraception for young women. Now, Plan B will be available without a prescription for women of all ages — but that move hasn’t exactly made social conservatives happy. Anti-choice groups are already trying to figure out how they can lobby for state laws that will restrict access to emergency contraception despite the Obama Administration’s position.

In Arkansas, abortion opponents are already pushing the legislature to consider imposing either an age limit or a total ban on Plan B sales next year. Jerry Cox, the director of the state’s conservative Christian Family Council, told Arkansas News that the new federal policy on emergency contraception means that “essentially, kids can get contraception now as easy as they can buy candy out of the store,” and that “bothers” him enough to consider lobbying for legislative action.

“Do I have legislation in my hip pocket? No, I don’t have anything,” Cox said. “We really need to research this issue… to find out exactly what is being mandated and how much leeway a state has in saying, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ ”

And that preliminary effort has begun. Cox explained that he recently met with several conservative lawmakers — including some of the sponsors of the harsh abortion bans that Arkansas enacted this session — to discuss the possibility of developing a bill to limit access to Plan B on the state level. And the conservative leaders said the issue will surely come up again at a meeting at the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, Co., at the end of the month, when right-wing organizations will gather to discuss “social issues affecting states.”

There may be another option available to right-wing groups who want to prevent emergency contraception sales. According to Mark Riley, the executive vice president of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, state law already allows Arkansas’ pharmacies to refuse to sell a drug if they have a “moral objection” to it. That conscience clause is rarely used, but pharmacies in the state could fall back on it to justify their decision to not carry Plan B.

That’s true in other states, too. Across the country, a patchwork of “conscience clauses” allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for personal or religious reasons. The National Women’s Law Center has tracked at least 24 states that have refused to sell either birth control or emergency contraception to women who are well within their rights to purchase it. Legislation introduced by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) would standardize pharmacies’ practices to ensure that women aren’t denied reproductive care, but it hasn’t moved in Congress.

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