JEFFERSON CITY — Pharmacies in Missouri would be shielded from requirements to stock specific drugs, such as emergency contraception, if legislation passed Thursday by the Senate ultimately becomes law.
The measure, which was sent to the House by a 24-9 Senate vote, was touted by its sponsor as a way to protect the rights of business owners.
"You go into a clothing store, and they can stock whatever they want to. I just want to make sure that pharmacies have the same right to do that," said sponsoring Sen. David Sater, a Republican pharmacist from the southwest Missouri town of Cassville. "It's a freedom of doing business."
Although the legislation doesn't specifically mention birth control, Sater said his measure was prompted by efforts elsewhere to require pharmacies to fill particular prescriptions such as emergency contraception.
Some Democrats said that's why they opposed the legislation.
"I understand the business side of this ... that it's important that pharmacies be able to stock those drugs that they are going to be using," said Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City. But "there are a few of us who have concerns that this might be used by folks to not stock birth control, or what's commonly known as Plan B."
The morning-after pill is basically a high-dose version of birth control pills that prevents ovulation if taken within a few days after sex. Because a prescription is required for those younger than 17, it is sold from behind pharmacy counters at a cost of around $35 to $60 a dose.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that tracks laws on reproductive health, five states have laws requiring pharmacies or pharmacists to fill valid prescriptions, though courts in two of those states have ruled that the law cannot be enforced against pharmacies that refuse to dispense emergency contraception.
A greater number of states have laws specifically allowing pharmacies or pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception.
Missouri law currently is silent on the topic.
Sater's measure says that "no pharmacy licensed in this state shall be required to carry or maintain in inventory any specific prescription or nonprescription drug or device."
The Missouri Pharmacy Association, which supports the measure, said that although some pharmacies may not stock emergency contraception because of moral objections, others might want to exclude it simply because there is not enough customer demand to ensure they sell it before the expiration date.
"There are thousands and thousands and thousands of drug products," said association CEO Ron Fitzwater. "Our concern is once you start identifying and saying you have to stock this product, we don't know where the process ends."
The use of emergency contraception has increased among women over the past decade or so.
A report released in February by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11 percent of women ages 15-44 who reported having sex said they had used the morning-after pill. That was up from 4 percent in 2002. The recent study was based on interviews of more than 12,000 women in 2006 through 2010.
Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, has filed legislation that would require pharmacies to fill contraception prescriptions. But it still has not been referred to a committee, meaning it is unlikely to pass.