Kansas avoids debate on morning-after pill

Battles over access to the “morning-after pill” are raging in state legislatures nationwide, but Kansas – usually an eager participant in culture wars – is sitting this one out.

For now.

Those representing Kansas pharmacists, reproductive-rights groups and anti-abortion activists on Monday said while the issue was on their radar screens, other matters were higher on the agenda.

“To be honest, I’m pretty surprised,” said Judy Smith, state director for Concerned Women of America, a conservative Christian organization. “I fully expect it to hit Kansas. Kansas never seems to be exempt from these things.”

The issue is already percolating. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood backed a rally at a Wichita pharmacy where a pharmacist had refused to fill a prescription for the drug.

But Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri, said his organization wouldn’t seek Kansas legislation requiring pharmacists to fill such prescriptions, even though a similar effort is under way in Missouri.

“Our preference is to try to deal on a case-by-case basis helping women gain access to emergency contraception,” Brownlie said.

The debates across the nation have taken place in the wake of incidents where pharmacists – citing moral objections to the pills – have refused to fill prescriptions. More than 60 bills regarding the matter have been filed in state legislatures this year.

Many of the state bills intended to expand access give specially trained pharmacists in states including Maryland, New York, Kentucky and Illinois the right to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription. Other bills require pharmacies to stock and distribute the drug, and to ensure that the pill is made available to women who come into emergency rooms after a sexual assault.

But some bills would make it more difficult for many women to get emergency contraception, which is effective for only 72 hours after a woman experiences a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex. Legislation in New Hampshire, for instance, would require parental notification before the drug is dispensed, and more than 20 other states will consider bills that give pharmacies the right to not stock the drug and pharmacists the right to not dispense it, even to women with valid prescriptions.

Debra Billingsley, executive director of the Kansas Board of Pharmacy, said state law was vague. A pharmacist could use “professional discretion” to refuse to fill a prescription, but the statute didn’t address moral considerations.

John Kiefhaber, executive director of the 1,300-member Kansas Pharmacists Assn., said his constituents didn’t want the law to change.

“They talk about it, and they generally have two points they make: One is to serve the patient first, and that can be done by transferring the patient to another pharmacist if necessary,” he said. “The second is to retain their professional discretion.”

It’s rare, he said, that a woman seeking the pill wouldn’t be able to find a nearby pharmacist to fill the order.

Pharmacists, Kiefhaber said, aren’t spoiling for a fight on the issue.

“We’ve got our hands full,” he said, “with Medicare Part D.”