Attorney General Letitia James is demanding that all New York pharmacies uphold reproductive rights amidst claims that large chain drug retailers in other states have been refusing to sell birth control to customers.
As the debate over abortion rights rages on, James is concerned the war has reached the aisles of CVS and Walgreens. She sent both retailers letters reminding them that it is illegal in New York to deny customers prescribed or over-the-counter medications or products related to reproductive health care.
“Pharmacies have a responsibility to safeguard New Yorkers’ health, including by providing reproductive health care medications and products,” James said. “The actions taken by some CVS and Walgreens employees in other states have sparked concerns nationwide and have raised serious questions that must be addressed. Let me be clear: I will not accept New Yorkers being denied access to essential health care products and services.”
According to recent published reports, staff at the store chains across the country have been denying shoppers access to reproductive medication, with some accounts going as far to allege that they have mistreated consumers by publicly harassing, embarrassing, and shaming them, sparking calls to boycott these pharmacies.
Within the letters, James charged that if any employees are found denying access to medication or condoms at any of their some 1,000 locations, the companies will be in violation of New York’s public health and civil rights laws. James also requested CVS and Walgreens provide more information regarding their refusal policies, which she says Walgreens has stated allows pharmacists to step away from filing a prescription for which they have a moral objection. The Attorney General is concerned this could infringe on the rights of individuals across the state.
James said she is requesting the companies provide more information on the following:
- The amount of time that CVS and Walgreens consider “timely” in fulfilling a prescription or completing a sales transaction where there has been a refusal.
- Companies’ training regarding refusals and related policies.
- All documents concerning whether CVS and Walgreens track refusals and/or whether such prescriptions and over-the-counter sales have been filled and/or completed in a “timely” manner.
- All complaints concerning CVS and Walgreens refusals at New York locations for the past six years.
In response to this letter, a spokesperson for Walgreens told amNewYork Metro that they are obligated to follow state and federal laws and that their employees are required to sell all products in our stores, unless in the rare instances that the law mandates that a further accommodation be made.
“The employee must apply for a specific exemption, which is reviewed and approved by management through a formal process based on our policies set by law and is never solely at the discretion of the team member. As always, our priority is to provide the best possible experience for our customers and patients. Our focus is also meeting the needs of our patients and making sure they have access to the medications they need, in compliance with applicable pharmacy laws and regulations. Trigger laws in various states require additional steps for dispensing certain prescriptions and apply to all pharmacies, including Walgreens. In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers as needed, to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions,” the spokesperson said.
A representative from CVS also told amNewYork Metro that they are carefully reviewing Attorney General James’ letter; however, they underscore that they are ensuring that all patients have timely access to their medication and are committed to supporting reproductive health care.
“We have policies in place to ensure no patient is ever denied access to medications prescribed by a physician based on a pharmacy staff member’s individual beliefs,” the spokesperson said.
However, CVS also shares that under federal law, they must reasonably accommodate a religious conviction that may prevent a pharmacist or pharmacy technician from dispensing specific medications.
“Laws also vary by state and some states require reasonable accommodations for a moral or ethical conviction. In such instances, employees are required to notify us in advance about such a conviction, so that if the accommodation is granted, we can make other arrangements to ensure the patient’s needs are promptly satisfied. We will continue to focus on delivering care to our patients while complying with varying state laws and federal guidance that continues to evolve,” the CVS representative said.