In the Alaska State Legislature, Democratic State Senator Berta Gardner has introduced two controversial bills to allow pharmacists in Alaska to dispense – without a doctor’s prescription – self-administered hormonal contraceptives, and to force health care insurers in the state to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and contraceptive procedures and devices – including those that cause abortion.
Sen. Gardner’s Senate Bill 169 would allow pharmacists to dispense – without a doctor’s prescription – self-administered hormonal contraceptives as listed by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Those include the Pill and so-called “emergency contraception,” which can cause an early abortion of a living human embryo by inhibiting his or her implantation in the womb.
Moreover, SB 169 would mandate Alaska’s state Board of Pharmacy to develop a pharmacists’ “training program” on prescribing those hormonal contraceptives and counseling “patients” on “all contraceptive methods,” including long-acting reversible contraception, such as abortion-causing IUDs.
RIFE WITH CONCERNS
There are numerous concerns surrounding the pharmacist-prescribed contraceptives bill.
The bill does not only allow, but could force pharmacists to dispense – without a doctor’s prescription – and to recommend contraceptives. Senate Bill 169 does not contain any conscience protections to allow pharmacists for ethical or moral reasons to refuse prescribing or counseling for contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs – or to opt out of the state board’s training program.
Moreover, the bill would have pharmacists prescribe and dispense strong-acting, hormone-based contraceptive drugs to patients who have not first undergone a basic consultation or clinical breast or pelvic exam by their primary care practitioner. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stresses that “individuals should consult their health care providers” before choosing a particular method of contraception. Such conversations and exams can reveal underlying medical conditions and family histories that would make certain drugs especially dangerous to the individual. For instance, the NIH explains the use of combined oral contraceptive pills – such as the Pill – which contain various combinations of strong synthetic estrogens and progestins, is “not recommended” for women in certain circumstances, including those with a history of blood clots or a history of breast, liver or endometrial cancer. The use of combined oral contraceptive pills is linked to the development of deadly blood clots.
Senate Bill 169 would require a pharmacist to receive a “self-screening assessment tool” from the patient before dispensing the hormonal contraception, but the bill does not require the patient to have first seen her health care practitioner, as she would before accessing similarly potent drugs from the pharmacy. In fact, the bill even prohibits the pharmacist from requiring a patient to schedule an appointment with him or her before receiving the drugs.
The bill would require pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraceptives to a “patient” but the bill does not identify a minimum age for patients. So it is unclear whether pharmacists would have to dispense prescription contraceptives to 14-year-old girls on demand; the bill does not require pharmacists to first notify or obtain consent from a girl’s parent. Moreover, it’s not clear how the pharmacist could secure health background information from a young patient who cannot assess her own health or recall family health history – or how the girl could manage serious possible side-effects of the Pill like high blood pressure and heart attack.
FORCING HEALTH CARE INSURERS
Another bill sponsored by Sen. Gardner – SB 156 – would force health care insurers operating in the state to provide coverage for the “full range” of prescription and over-the-counter contraceptives, sterilizations and contraceptive-focused exams, “procedures and medical services.” Health care insurers would be forced to cover the contraceptive Pill, so-called “emergency contraception” and IUDs (inserted in outpatient procedures) – all of which can cause early abortions of living human embryos.
The bill has a narrow exemption for some health care insurers that provide an insurance plan to an objecting “religious” employer, namely a church, an association of churches, the “exclusively religious activities” of any religious order, or a non-profit religious organization that objects and has “self-certified” as such with the federal Department of Labor or has provided notice to the effect to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This could leave out various organizations, including religious orders or religiously-affiliated organizations with a focus on social services that aren’t officially “religious” activities. Moreover, the bill would force health care insurers to cover contraceptives when they provide insurance plans to non-religious, for-profit businesses or non-profit organizations that aren’t officially “religious” but oppose covering contraceptives and abortifacients for religious or ethical reasons.
In addition, SB 156 prohibits health care insurers from requiring copayments, deductibles or other forms of cost sharing to offset the costs of covering contraceptives. But the bill does not prohibit insurers from raising the prices of insurance plan premiums – including of objecting and exempt organizations – to pay for the abortifacient contraceptives provided to others.
From the first century the Catholic Church has affirmed the moral evil of procured abortion. “Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law,” explains the Catholic Catechism.
Moreover, Christianity has always recognized that the marital act has a two-fold purpose — to foster loving unity between spouses and to produce children. Each time a couple rejects the life-creating nature through contraception, that falsifies “the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality,” Saint Pope John Paul II explained in his 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio.
The Catholic Catechism notes that for just reasons spouses may wish to space the births of their children, while respecting God’s design for human sexuality. The church supports Natural Family Planning, morally sound methods to achieve and avoid pregnancies. NFP is based on a woman’s observations of the naturally occurring signs of the fertile and infertile phases that God built into the menstrual cycle.
HOW TO TAKE ACTION
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 1:30 p.m. the Senate Health & Social Service Committee will conduct a hearing on Senate Bill 156. The hearing in Juneau will be teleconferenced.
For more information and to contact legislators about SB 156 and SB 169, go to akleg.gov or call 800-478-4648.
To follow Catholic Anchor reports on these bills and others, including news on public testimonies and bill hearings, go to CatholicAnchor.org. The current legislative session runs Jan. 20-April 19.