Pharmacist Denies Teen Birth Control

What would you do if you saw a pharmacist refuse to give a teen contraceptives?

March 9, 2009— -- Imagine going to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Sitting in the waiting area and reading the newspaper, you suddenly hear an unusual conversation between a young girl and a pharmacist at the counter. Could it be? Is the pharmacist really refusing to fill that young girl's birth control prescription because of "moral issues"?

Watch the story on "What Would You Do?" March 10 at 10 p.m. ET

ABC's "What Would You Do?" set up hidden cameras in Morristown, N.J., at White's Pharmacy on South Street to find out how customers would react in such a situation. Unbeknown to the customers, the pharmacist and the 16-year-old girl were actors hired by ABC News and their dialogue was scripted.

But New Jersey state law is quite real, so it's illegal for pharmacists to deny a valid prescription if they have the drug in stock.

Nine hidden cameras monitored customers' reactions in a nearby control room. Some of them were surprising.

'Not on My Watch'

Marlee Roberts, the actress hired by ABC News, had a young and innocent look that ABC News emphasized by dressing her in a conservative private-school girl's uniform. She also arrived at the pharmacy counter with no parents or guardians in tow.

As she asked the pharmacist to fill her birth control prescription and he refused, she acted more and more anxious and inquisitive. The pharmacist rebutted with, "You have a couple of choices: abstinence and abstinence. That would be my suggestion. ... Quite frankly, your doctor is completely irresponsible. She's giving you a license to have sex. ... I answer to a higher authority and I'm not going to give you the prescription. Not on my watch."

Ted Gartner was one of the first customers to speak up, telling Marlee, "I think [the pharmacist is] wrong. He has no business doing that. It's his personal decision."

The Parents Need to Know

Gartner then told the pharmacist that he didn't think filling the prescription was "that big of a deal," that it's a "pro-choice type thing." But Gartner suddenly changed his tune when the pharmacist informed him that the young girl's parents did not know about her prescription.

With this revelation, Gartner solemnly said, "That is a problem." But in most states, including New Jersey, the law says that a teenager does not need parental consent to fill a prescription for birth control.

'I Would Be So Upset'

Another customer named Carol Boyd Larson immediately took the same stance when she found out that Marlee's parents were in the dark.

"You've got to talk to your parents," she told Marlee. "I have five children and would appreciate it if they would talk to me about something like that."

Nick Colucci also felt strongly about informing the parents before filling the prescription. He supported the pharmacist's decision entirely and was not shy about giving his opinion.

"I have a daughter that age and there is no way in hell," he said. "I would be so upset if I found out that you filled that without letting me know."

Most customers thought the pharmacist was wrong not to fill the prescription but only Kimberly Torsiello confronted him directly.

From the beginning of Marlee's struggle with the pharmacist, Torsiello seemed horrified, and even said to another nearby customer, "My God, how embarrassing." Then Marlee sat down near her and Torsiello immediately leaned forward and called to Marlee, "Excuse me. Don't be ashamed. He's wrong. OK. Don't be ashamed. You're doing the right thing."

Torsiello gave Marlee advice on other options and even suggested going to Planned Parenthood. She then added, "Also, because I've decided to have this conversation with you, I would encourage you to use a condom also."

This was empowering advice, but would Torsiello take it to the next level and say something directly to the pharmacist?

When the pharmacist reappeared in the waiting area, Torsiello had had enough.

"Your morals are not my morals," she said. "And your morals are not to be put on her. And you are not to shame young women that have decided to take their own path and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

'The Best Advice Today'

ABC's John Quinones later interviewed Torsiello and learned that she is the mother of two young girls.

"I personally think that a 16-year-old should probably seek the advice of an adult who has had some experience in how sex can change a relationship, how sex can change the way you view yourself. But I don't think that it should be up to the pharmacy to make that decision."

The 16-year-old actress was most impressed by Torsiello. "I think she gave the best advice today," Marlee said. "I think more people should be like you."