Denied access to the morning-after pill by an anti-choice pharmacist

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      Editor's note: London Drugs has responded to this article. See: London Drugs apologizes to customer denied morning-after pill by anti-choice pharmacist.

      Sarah Arboleda has also written a follow-up commentary piece. See: More thoughts on being denied the morning-after pill by a pharmacist.

      A few months ago, I prowled around downtown Vancouver in the early morning hours waiting for a pharmacy to open so I could buy the morning-after pill. My story was not terrifically unique: the condom broke the night before, and even though I was also using a diaphragm, I wanted to be careful.

      As the London Drugs on Granville opens about an hour earlier than the rest, I headed to the back of the store to ask the pharmacist where I could find it, and how much it was, since I couldn’t find it anywhere in the store. Keep in mind that, a few weeks earlier, I’d seen the pill available and on the shelves of a local Rexall and a Shoppers Drug Mart in the far more conservative city of Surrey, so I thought they may simply have been out.

      The pharmacist—a somewhat older woman in her 40s or 50s—looked me over ungracefully and said that while the pill was for sale at their location, she required me to complete a questionnaire before she would release it. I assumed this was standard procedure. She asked me a number of questions—maybe four or five—included in them whether I’d had the pill before. When I said “No” she wrapped up the interview and told me that I needed to see my doctor and that she would not allow me to buy the pill.

      Again, this was a health professional employed by a major pharmaceutical retailer in Canada. Clearly she was not just acting of her own volition. Clearly this was a genuine requirement.

      Actually, no. What the Canadian National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) stated in 2008 was that Plan B was now an over-the-counter drug available without a prescription. In fact, the only requirement was that the pill be stocked close to the pharmacy so that customers may ask questions if they chose. However, the purchase of the pill would no longer require a doctor’s prescription or a pharmacist’s oversight. In fact, I cannot even find information about a specific age requirement for the pill within Canada. Even in the United States the pill can be purchased without a prescription from age 17 onward.

      I left the pharmacy feeling anxious and not a little judged, yet I hadn’t thought to look into the legality of her actions at the time. In fact, because I assumed she was telling the truth, I hadn’t even tried other pharmacies for fear of further embarrassment. It wasn’t until recently, when I browsing articles online, that I realized I had been grossly misinformed.

      My experience was far from unusual, as I found out. This questionnaire is administered in many pharmacies around Canada, with pharmacists charging up to $40 just for the consultation—if they choose to allow you to buy the pill—which is anywhere from $25 to $40 itself. Keep in mind that this questionnaire is neither requested nor required by NAPRA, yet many pharmacists will refuse to release the pill without its completion as they feel that Plan B should not be as easy to buy as aspirin, despite its very clear and very legal classification as an over-the-counter, prescription- and consultation-free drug.

      Now I was angry, and I called the pharmacy department of the Granville and Georgia store directly. The gist of the call was this: I asked whether I could get the pill without a prescription or consultation, and she said yes. When I asked her why the pharmacist I spoke with months earlier told me a different story, the woman on the phone sounded genuinely shocked. She confirmed that this was not the policy of the store or the company (or Canadian law) to deny the pill to anyone and that while a first-time user is advised to ask questions first for safety’s sake, they should not—and cannot—be outright denied.

      Put simply, the pharmacist from months earlier had lied. And her lie could have resulted in a much more difficult and much more life-altering decision down the road. But regardless of any larger implications, in that moment, she—and many pharmacists around Canada like her—decided that her own moral compass should somehow supersede her legal and professional duty as a pharmacist.

      I’m 24 years old. I’m in a committed relationship. I’m responsible with birth control. I’m not saying that if any of the above factors hadn’t been true that somehow this pharmacist would have been right in denying me the pill. However, my bigger concern was that if I couldn’t get Plan B, who could? Did I need a punch card for abortive drugs through my family physician? Did I need to collect all 10 before I could have free access to a legal, over-the-counter drug? Did she have a similar policy with everything in her pharmacy? If you’d never previously tried grape-flavor Dimetapp was she uncomfortable dispensing that as well? What about anti-fungal creams?

      I know that I am neither the first nor the last person to be denied access to the morning-after pill in a Canadian pharmacy. The truth is that while we Canadians seem so eager to pat ourselves on the back over our government’s stance on women’s rights, healthcare, and contraceptives (especially compared to the “War on Women” happening down south at the moment), I wouldn’t declare victory on this issue just yet.

      Sarah Arboleda is a recent graduate of Simon Fraser University with a BA Honours in English. She has written for a number of online and print publications, including the Peak at SFU, Sad Mag, Zelda Lily, and her own blog, Tea Leaves and Dog Ears.




      Apr 17, 2012 at 5:22pm

      Shame on the pharmacist, please name her. Shocked to hear this happening in downtown Vancouver.

      Just Wondering

      Apr 17, 2012 at 5:30pm

      Time to name these people. I don't care who they think they are or what kind of a compass they have, they are not gods. They damn well do as the law requires, period.


      Apr 17, 2012 at 5:32pm

      I live in Quebec where you need a fucking pharmacist 'prescription' to get the morning after pill (They ask you a bunch of questions to see if you 'need it or not'.) I once had to argue with the pharmacist for about 15 minutes and was STILL denied- ended up having to walk to a different pharmacy!!

      Oh, and did I mention they charge an $20 for the pharmacist 'prescription'??

      I fucking hate this province. Moving back to Vancouver stat.


      Apr 17, 2012 at 5:41pm

      sorry to hear that you had trouble. I bought Plan-B two years ago over the counter at Shopers (broadway and commercial) and didn't have any problems. Health professionals like this woman need to check their personal feelings at the door, she was acting highly unprofessional and should be disciplined.


      Apr 17, 2012 at 5:59pm

      You can't put a price on this information. The more women (and supportive men) know about the discrimination and blatant denial of the law and the oath our healthcare professionals have taken, the more women can stand up for themselves. This is not right and it fires me up. Thank you for sharing your experience.


      Apr 17, 2012 at 6:10pm

      Well hopefully Progressive politicians will charge in and solve this...?

      OH Wait! It was legal already and SO it is merely a matter of enforcement of existing laws, which Never happens, no matter how exact the laws and regulations's like restaurant owners taking TIPS or charging staff for 'breakage'.

      Sure...illegal, but you won't find ANY Canadian politicians putting much pressure on ENFORCING laws or regulations.

      They never do...they just pass laws which get routinely ignored by corps, cops and their agents, and Progressive politicians simply look at the floor like a pathetic dog that couldn't hold their bladder.

      (Oh, the pharmacist is both stupid and evil and really hates 'you people' trying to tell them what to do)

      Gentleman Jack

      Apr 17, 2012 at 6:11pm

      If there's no Rx, it's a legitimate judgment call on the part of the Pharmacist to vend or not to vend any particular product---even if you went in and asked for aspirin and the pharmacist thought you were going to use it inappropriately, he could refuse to dispense it to you and eject you from the store.

      If this pharmacist supports the common law, by which giving anything to procure a miscarriage is a crime, more power to her. The statutory suspension of common law is really not a good excuse for allowing women to procure miscarriages at will.

      Jan Cr

      Apr 17, 2012 at 6:33pm

      Strange. It's on the shelf at Shoppers. Maybe that pharmaicst should retire.


      Apr 17, 2012 at 6:41pm

      You were a victim of ignorant bias by small minded person.

      Next time something like this happens go talk to other people in the store like supervisors.

      Call headoffice from your cell phone in front of the person.

      If after hours leave messasge take pictures write down names.

      File in small claims court if you really feel strongly for Discrimination, loss, mental stress etc.

      Or Human Rights Tribunal.

      Unless you take legal action nothing much changes.

      adam g.

      Apr 17, 2012 at 7:09pm

      for the pharmacists sake lets assume shes bad at her job and didnt know the law. if she was found guilty of denying you on purpose she should be named. and oh yeah, i dont pat myself on the back over any stances my government takes. Harper is a clown. an unfunny clown.