State law endangers family planning and access to birth control | Column

Imagine you go to your health care provider for something very personal.

Perhaps you had a birth control failure — the condom broke, or you forgot to take your pill for a few days. These things happen. Your trusted health care provider writes you a prescription for emergency contraception. You go to fill it, and are not only refused, but receive a lecture from the pharmacist.

Hypothetical? Nope. It happened here in Washington.

Currently, a Washington state pharmacist can refuse any legal prescription for emergency contraception based on personal belief.

As recently as 2006, this “right to refuse” migrated to other prescriptions. Take the diabetic young man in the Tri-Cities who tried to purchase clean needles at a pharmacy to administer his medication and was refused. Or the women in Tacoma and Spokane who needed a drug called misoprostol prior to surgery and were not only refused it, but accused of wanting to use it for an abortion.

One exception in our state is that hospital emergency room employees are currently mandated to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. A rule change proposed by Health and Human Services director Michael Leavitt jeopardizes even this.

Though he purports to be beefing up three existing laws “protecting federally-funded health care providers’ right of conscience,” the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and others are concerned about the impact of the proposed regulation. “These proposed rules could mean that providers of federally-funded family planning services could no longer guarantee their patients access to contraception,” according to Mary Jane Gallagher, president and CEO of NFPRHA, in a July blog post.

A Planned Parenthood fact sheet recently released explains: “At a time when 17 million women are in need of publicly-supported reproductive health care services, this regulation disparately impacts the low-income, uninsured and under-insured women who rely on these programs for their health information and service.”

The potential of this rule to disrupt services of hospitals and clinics for family planning by endangering their funding is staggering. “This rule would affect over 500,000 hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities — including family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood and other free-standing family planning clinics, where they would be legally bound to hire people who would not be willing to provide the very services our clinics provide,” according to Aurora Jewell, public affairs field organizer with Planned Parenthood in Tacoma and Federal Way.

I know this is arguably one of the most controversial issues in our country today. Here is where I see common ground: It stands to reason that we provide as much access to affordable birth control as possible for as many people who would like it as possible, in order to reduce as many unwanted pregnancies as possible, and reduce the possibility that abortion would even be considered.

Think also if it really makes sense to give pharmacists and other health care providers veto power over physicians in order to access medication, even in the case of rape.

I get concerned when people making laws and rules do so based on one type of religious belief, or without representation from our lowest socioeconomic status citizens, or without proportional representation of our country’s population.

In order to truly have a government by the people and for the people, we need to be the people who speak up when rights are endangered.

If you’d like to express your opinion on this issue, contact or send an e-mail to before Sept. 22.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a personal life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes in the Puget Sound area. Contact her via e-mail:

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