Thursday, March 14, 2002

‘Morning after’
pill bill passed
by state House

Pharmacists could dispense
the drug without a prescription

By Stephanie Healea

Pharmacists would be able to dispense so-called "morning after" birth control pills without a doctor's prescription under a bill that passed the state House and is now before the Senate.

Minors would still need a prescription under an amendment added by the House Health Committee.

Legislature 2002 Barry Raff, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, said the "morning after pill" is actually a higher dose of birth control pills. Supporters of the measure say it works to prevent pregnancy 72 hours after sex and does not cause an abortion.

"Please note that the medication referred to here is not RU486, the so-called abortion pill, but rather is commonly known as the 'morning after pill.' Since it prevents implantation of the egg, it is indeed a form of contraception," the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said in its written testimony.

Opponents of the bill (HB 2806, House Draft 2) say physicians should help decide if possible harmful side effects are likely. They note that pharmacists do not receive the proper training to act as a physician.

Josette Solis, the executive director of the Aloha Pregnancy Care and Counseling Centers, a group that counsels women on options other than abortion, opposes the bill because she says a pill should not replace sex education and counseling.

"If this is promoted as a quick fix to a risky lifestyle choice," they are going to keep making similar choices, Solis said.

Supporters argue that the bill would help women who do not have health insurance and those in rural areas who live far from a clinic or doctor.

Proponents also like that women would not need to see a doctor, because the pills must be taken within 72 hours of sexual activity to be most effective. The time factor could inhibit women from being able to take advantage of the pills, especially when waiting over the weekend or waiting for an appointment, they argue.

But Rep. Mark Moses (R, Kunia-Makakilo) said the premise of the bill is flawed because most people would not know within 72 hours that their contraception method had failed.

The state Board of Pharmacy also does not like the idea of pharmacists dispensing medication without a prescription.

Lee Ann Teshima, the board's executive director, said the way the bill is written, even if a doctor issues a prescription, the pharmacist will not be able to issue the pills if the pharmacist has not completed an emergency contraception training program.

"The board believes that this is an unintended result and contrary to the intent of the bill," Teshima said.

Supporters also contend that the bill should be changed to allow minors to get emergency contraception since current state law allows minors to have access to medical care regarding venereal diseases, pregnancy and family planning services.

"Research shows that this (minors) is the very population who may use contraception sporadically or incorrectly and thus may need emergency contraception even more than older women. Almost 80 percent of pregnancies in teens are unintended," the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said.

But Solis said minors should not have access to the drug without a prescription because they may use birth control unwisely if they know the morning-after pill is available.

"Our youth are not doctors who are educated to diagnose what is medically best for them," said Solis. "Nor do pharmacists receive the proper training to act as physicians. They are not parents who have the ultimate legal responsibility of providing appropriate health care," she said.

Susan Hippensteele, representing the Hawaii Women Lawyers, a nonprofit organization, said "emergency contraceptive pills provide women a means of preventing unwanted pregnancy after unprotected intercourse in cases of unanticipated sexual activity, contraceptive failure or sexual assault."

Another bill (HB 1802, House Draft 1), passed by the House, would require all hospitals and primary-care clinics to make emergency contraception available to sexual-assault survivors who want the pills.

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Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

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