New ruling on Plan B One-Step in Illinois

By Heather McGraw

A recent Circuit Court ruling in downstate Sangamon County threatens women’s abilities to receive emergency contraception.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich pushed through legislation in 2005 that required all pharmacists to carry Plan B. This legislation later became known as “The Rule.”

Pharmacies will now have the option to refuse stocking and selling the medication after a ruling by Judge John Belz, of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court on April 5 against the governor’s mandate.

Plan B One-Step is a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication containing levonorgestrel, the same ingredient found in many birth control pills. According to the Plan B One-Step website, the difference is the emergency contraceptive requires one pill, which uses a larger dose of levonorgestrel than a single birth control pill. The website also claims approximately seven out of eight women who risked pregnancy will not get pregnant after taking the pill.

After six years, Belz finally made his decision on the case filed by two Illinois pharmacists. He wrote in his ruling the mandate was “invalid” under the Illinois Right to Conscience Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Belz also wrote that the rule was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Robyn Ziegler, press secretary for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said Madigan’s office will appeal the ruling to the 4th District Appellate Court.

The attorney general will appeal the case in Springfield because of the compelling need to maintain emergency contraception availability in all Illinois pharmacies, according to Ziegler. The office has not yet set a date for the appeal.

Kathleen Besinque, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, said there are more important issues regarding women’s health rights for the state attorney general to focus on.

“I think general availability of contraceptive services and affordability is probably more significant,” Besinque said. “Making sure there is mandatory coverage on someone’s insurance plan for contraception is a much bigger issue.”

Refusal to sell the medicine will be a small problem because of pharmacists’ willingness to help women obtain the health care they need, but they should have the same freedoms as other medical professionals, according to Besinque.

“All health care professionals have a right to participate or not in things they object to,” Besinque said. “The difference may be perceived [that pharmacists] don’t, and that’s not right.”

Matthei Pharmacy, 25 E. Washington St., will absolutely still carry the pill, according to pharmacist Mark Edelheit, because he said he doesn’t see a reason not to.

“It’s made no difference to me,” Edelheit said. “The only thing I worry about is if you’re old enough.”

Besinque also mentioned the issue of age. She said because Plan B One-Step is typically used by a certain demographic—young females—some pharmacists don’t have a reason to have it in stock at all.

“There are many pharmacies, whose clientele is 65 and older, and they may never have a young person walk in and ask for emergency contraception,” Besinque said. “[Should] they have to keep something on the shelf that they may never need?”

To stock different products, pharmacists must purchase them upfront before receiving payment from patients which, according to Besinque, presents a more complicated issue than most medical professionals have to deal with. She said stocking every product on the market would put many pharmacies out of business.

“Forcing a business to stock something they’re never going to sell isn’t typically done in this country,” Besinque said.

In California, no pharmacist is mandated to stock anything in the retail outpatient sector, according to Besinque. She said there are processes put in place to make sure there’s an alternative pathway for the patient if her pharmacist is unwilling to sell something they need.

For example, Besinque said pharmacists in many states will refer patients to another pharmacy, or another pharmacist will come in to serve the patient.

Deitch Pharmacy, 1800 W. Chicago Ave., likely won’t have to deal with this problem according to Marta Kozyckyj, a pharmacist there.

She said while Deitch doesn’t always have more than one or two Plan B One-Step kits in stock, the new ruling won’t stop them from carrying the pill altogether.

“Depending on the circumstances, I think it’s still sometimes necessary to have [Plan B One-Step] and give the women the option to use it,” Kozyckyj said.

According to Besinque, it’s also necessary to make sure the public is well-informed when it comes to emergency contraception.

“Many women think they know what emergency contraception is but they really don’t,” Besinque said. “They don’t know how to get it or when they should use it. It’s not something I think the general public really understands very well.”

That lack of awareness, and publicity the new ruling has received, might have a greater effect than a pharmacist refusing to carry the pill. She said if someone does not realize it is stocked behind the counter and must be requested, they might assume the pharmacy refused to carry it and leave.

Besinque said in her personal experience, women looking for emergency contraception will not use their normal pharmacy and instead opt for a larger chain store, where they might not be noticed or recognized because of the social stigma attached to the medication.

“They don’t stigmatize you when you get a flat tire,” Besinque said. “But if you make a contraceptive mistake, it’s a problem.”

Any change on availability would likely be confined to smaller communities, where there aren’t a lot of pharmacy options, according to Besinque.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect availability at all,” Besinque said. “Pharmacies will carry what people buy.

There may be one or two pharmacists who are going to object to carrying it, but for every one or two that object, there are going to be 500 or 1,000 that don’t.”

Pharmacist Il Hwang agreed with Besinque that the areas affected will probably be rural communities, and availability likely won’t be a problem in places like Chicago because of its abundance

of pharmacies.

Hwang said his company, American Pharmacy Inc., 9718 S. Halsted St., will carry the emergency contraceptive, and he’s not sure why some other pharmacies might opt out.

“Some people think it has to do with religion, and some people think it’s a right,” Hwang said. “For me, I just think it’s an individual person’s right to do whatever they want to do with their body.”