Some Pharmacies Refuse to Fill Birth Control Prescriptions

Some pharmacists refuse to sell birth control, citing their religious beliefs.

February 18, 2009, 2:48 PM

Aug. 8, 2008— -- Kay Pharmacy in Grand Rapids, Mich., looks like any other pharmacy. But while the aisles are stocked with adhesive bandages, pain relievers and allergy medicines, some things are not for sale: condoms and other forms of birth control.

Owner Mike Koelzer sent a letter to 200 of his customers in 2002, advising them that he would no longer be filling prescriptions for contraceptives.

"We probably had 80 percent of those that were angry," Koelzer said. "But I was and am willing to lose the business in order to not be a part of something I don't agree with.

"I feel they're wrong," he said, basing in his opinions on his Catholic faith. "While something is legal does not necessarily make it right and also does not make it something that I want to participate in."

While the number of pharmacies that refuse to sell contraceptives remains relatively small, a group called Pharmacists for Life said that the movement is growing. The effort picked up steam a few years ago when individual pharmacists began refusing to dispense Plan B, the so-called morning after pill, for religious reasons.

Brian Bundy is one of those pharmacists. That's why he was fired from a pharmacy in Flint, Mich., he said.

"This country was founded on religious beliefs and the freedom to have those beliefs," Bundy said." Therefore, they should carry over to our jobs."

Megan Kelly, a married mother from Arlington Heights, Ill., strongly disagrees. She said she was deeply disturbed when her pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for monthly birth control pills and Plan B.

"For someone to interfere with that or make me feel like what my doctor is saying is not right, is wrong," Kelly said. "And that was my biggest issue -- that her morals were better than mine, or her world trumped my world. That was really uncomfortable."

Kelly believed the pharmacist was making a judgment that she shouldn't be in charge of making decisions about her body.

"It was very shocking, very unsettling," she said. "It was one of the moments as a female where you don't know whether to cry or get mad."

In response, Megan filed a complaint with the state of Illinois, which helped to change the law. The state now requires pharmacies to fill all prescriptions.

California and New Jersey followed suit, enacting similar laws. But in most states, pharmacies have the right to refuse to sell any merchandise whatsoever.

Advocates who support access to birth control claim women who are denied will seek out unsafe alternatives.

"Without access to this essential health care, women's lives are at risk," said Katherine Humphrey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of West Michigan. "Unintended pregnancies are tied to increased rates of infant mortality and morbidity. They are tied to increased rates in violence in relationships. ...This is a trend across the country and we are very, very concerned about this."

Humphrey believes that women have a right to legally prescribed medication.

"We certainly believe that all pharmacies have a responsibility and duty to make sure that FDA-approved contraception is available and accessible on site," she said.

But many independent pharmacy owners disagree. They argue that as private businessowners, they have the right to decide what they sell.

At Kay Pharmacy, Koelzer's business decision reflects his personal choices; his wife does not use birth control and they happily have nine children. "They're not the right way for humans to be the best humans we can be," he said.

"In my case, this is my business and I made the decision to carry what products I want to, whether it be cigarettes, which I don't carry, or pornography, or birth control pills," he said.

"That's my right. So women certainly have rights in this country, and I'm not out there trying to take anything away from them. I'm just using my God given right and the freedom of the United States to sell what I want in my own pharmacy."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events