At Large

Thugs for “Choice”

Radical feminists strong-arm Wal-Mart into stocking the morning-after pill.

By 2.16.06

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For a crowd that makes so much noise about choice, the pro-abortion lobby is remarkably hell-bent on restricting choice for enterprising Americans. Abortion-on-demand largely accomplished, abortion activists have set their sights on the next major concern for women's health: unlimited, universal access to emergency contraception.

These activists secured a victory Tuesday when the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy unanimously decided that Wal-Mart pharmacies in the state must carry and dispense the morning-after pill Plan B. (There is no generic or substitute drug on the market.) The decision responded to a complaint with the pharmacy board and lawsuit filed by three Boston-area women who were unable to have filled their prescriptions for emergency contraceptives (EC) at Wal-Mart.

On the merits, the women's complaint and lawsuit were flimsy at best. The women claimed that Wal-Mart was in violation of a pharmacy regulation that pharmacies "shall maintain on the premises at all times...commonly prescribed medications in accordance with the usual needs of the community." As Wal-Mart's attorney pointed out in a letter to the women's attorney, the board has never before required pharmacies to stock a specific drug, nor has it ever recommended a list that would satisfy this regulation. And just last year, when the Massachusetts legislature took up the question of hospitals and pharmacies dispensing EC, they chose not to require pharmacies to carry it. Like the Maryland law singling out Wal-Mart for employee health coverage, the Massachusetts pharmacy board used a rather arcane regulation to satisfy the radical feminists.

The Wal-Mart attorney's observation that these women did not appear to suffer "any actual damages" is an understatement. Their lawsuit was a political stunt, a farcical treatment of the requirement that a plaintiff have suffered an actual harm. These women put themselves in harm's way: in Rebekah Gee's case, she sought EC at a Wal-Mart located within two miles of five other pharmacies that carry the drug. Every location of the ubiquitous CVS carries it as well.

Two of the plaintiffs' backgrounds further illuminate their suit. Dr. Rebekah Gee is a long-time emergency contraception advocate. The Boston Globe reported that she is an OB/GYN "who last year helped write legislation to increase access to emergency contraception." She's been at it longer than that, petitioning the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 to allow over-the-counter sales of EC. Dr. Gee also helped the Massachusetts chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America (nee National Abortion Rights Action League, and before that, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) celebrate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Another plaintiff, Julia Battel, wrote an EC-touting article in the April 2005 issue of Massachusetts Nurse. One can only guess where Gee and Battel rounded up their third plaintiff, Katrina McCarty -- perhaps at a pro-abortion rally? -- but the Boston Metro reported that she too is already involved in "women's reproductive issues." So it's small wonder that Dr. Gee sounds like an activist, "My patients should not have to shop around." She is one, acting in concert with the pro-abortion lobby.

With the Massachusetts decision, the activists are emboldened. An anti-Wal-Mart group, Wal-Mart Watch, and NARAL sent an email yesterday celebrating the victory and demanding that the chain stock EC nationwide. The National Organization for Women sent out a similar, shrill email Wednesday: "No woman at risk for unintended pregnancy, be it the result of sexual assault or a broken condom, should be turned away by Wal-Mart and forced to find another pharmacy while the clock is ticking."

Ah, so now women have a right to emergency contraception at any pharmacy of their choice. This precedent should disturb proponents of free markets and small government. It is difficult to imagine any other case in which the government compels a private business to carry a specific product. In this case, Wal-Mart is being strong-armed by politicos offended that the behemoth chooses not to deal in the morning-after pill. When the abortion lobby successfully claims emergency contraception as a fundamental right and forces private businesses to accommodate them, government-provided EC cannot be far off.

Since the Massachusetts pharmacy board appears to have overstepped its legislative mandate, Wal-Mart should stand up to the contraception thugs in the courts. The pharmacy board regulations may not carry the full force of law, especially since the regulations are now being used as political ammo. Asked by TAS if Wal-Mart is planning a legal challenge to the Massachusetts regulation or if the chain plans to stock EC in all its stores, spokesman Dan Fogleman said, "I can't speculate as to what the future might hold. Women's health is a high priority for Wal-Mart. Clearly there are broader considerations in play here. We're giving this issue a lot of thought." Fogleman would not comment beyond that statement.

The simplest solution to Wal-Mart's woes is also the most attractive. If the feminists in Massachusetts and the labor unions in Maryland want to fight the market, the market should fight back. Wal-Mart should raise the price of Plan B to astronomical heights and use the profits to fund health care in Maryland. If Wal-Mart or a state fails to oppose the thugs, these so-called pro-choice advocates will have their way with business and the law across the country.

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About the Author

David Holman is a reporter for The American Spectator.