Feb. 17, 2006 – Womenâ€™s rights, consumer and labor groups advocating for womenâ€™s access to emergency contraception achieved a major victory earlier this week when the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board ruled that Wal-Mart must honor prescriptions for emergency contraceptives.
The ruling came little more than a week after three women filed complaints against the company for failing to stock Plan B, the only drug specifically approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as an emergency contraceptive.
The three women filed their complaints with the pharmacy board after finding that their local Wal-Mart pharmacies did not carry the contraceptive. None of the companyâ€™s 44 Massachusetts stores stocks Plan B, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse. This is also the case for Wal-Mart stores nationwide, with the exception of those in Illinois, where state law requires pharmacies to carry emergency contraception.
After the February 14 decision in Massachusetts, Wal-Mart spokespeople told reporters that the company plans to comply with the order, and that it is considering a change in its policy nationwide. The company claims it does not stock the pills because consumer demand is not high enough.
Responding to the ruling, the national reproductive healthcare provider Planned Parenthood urged supporters to target the retail chain at the local, state and national level over its policy against stocking Plan B. The website of the Massachusetts arm of Planned Parenthood carries a link to Wal-Martâ€™s web-based customer-feedback form and provides a form letter people can use to protest the companyâ€™s policy.
Other groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice and two large Wal-Mart watchdog organizations, are also calling for a national push to change the companyâ€™s policy.
In a statement Tuesday, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts Director Melissa Kogut said NARALâ€™s national membership had flooded the companyâ€™s Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters with over 26,000 messages imploring the retail giantâ€™s executives to set a national policy requiring all 3,337 stores to stock and fill prescriptions for Plan B.
Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, both union-supported groups that have been at the forefront of efforts to disseminate information critical of the company, also released statements this week applauding the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board decision and pledging to force Wal-Mart to carry emergency contraception at all its US locations.
The worldâ€™s largest retailer is not the only one under fire recently for blocking customersâ€™ access to Plan B.
Reproductive rights activists have also challenged the FDA's refusal â€“ against the advice of its scientific advisors â€“ to allow Plan B sales over the counter.