Update: Wal-Mart & the Morning After Pill

Here’s an update on a posting from a couple of weeks ago, calledWal-Mart & the Morning After Pill.

Yesterday, Reuters had this story: Wal-Mart pharmacies to carry morning-after pill.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Friday that all of its pharmacies would carry morning-after contraceptive pills, bowing to pressure from states seeking to force the world’s biggest retailer to do so.
In a statement posted on its Web site, Wal-Mart said all of its pharmacies would begin carrying “Plan B” contraceptives as of March 20, but added that workers who did not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription could refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company would not comment beyond the contents of the statement.

“We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead,” Ron Chomiuk, vice president of pharmacy for Wal-Mart, said.

“Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country’s only major pharmacy chain not selling it,” he said.

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, just what is really motivating Wal-Mart here. When a corproration attributes a change in behaviour to pressure from government, it could mean:
a) we’re bowing to pressure from government;
b) we’re using “pressure from government” as an excuse to do something we wanted to do anyway;
c) we’ve some other motive which no one outside the corporate boardroom will ever figure out.

It’s also interesting to consider the implications of Wal-Mart’s claim that “workers who did not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription could refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy”. This sort of proviso holds the possibility of making the promise to carry the pill a bit hollow; there’s not much benefit to customers in need if you stock the product but employees are unwilling to dispense it. Policies like that are usually called “conscience clauses,” and are designed to protect employees from having to participate in an activity that violates their personal ethical or religious convictions. That sounds like an admirable policy. Of course, problems arise when those personal convictions interfere with doing one’s job, and in particular when it poses a serious obstacle to customers (or patients) getting the products and services they need.

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