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Contraceptive Legislation Fuels Abortion, Conscience Debates

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Contraceptive Legislation Fuels Abortion, Conscience Debates

Article excerpt

Some call it the Viagra gap. They use it to describe the disparity between health insurers that will pay for a pill so a man can have sex without fear of failure but will not cover a prescription so a woman can have sex without fear of pregnancy. A federal and state legislative campaign is under way to close the gap and require insurers who offer a drug benefit to cover prescription contraceptives.

In April, Georgia joined Maryland as the first two states to enact broad contraceptive-equity legislation. Maryland's law passed in 1998. Similar measures currently are awaiting the governor's decision in Hawaii and Maine, with California, Connecticut, and North Carolina possibly following suit this year. Federal legislation is expected to be reintroduced shortly by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R, Maine) and Harry Reid (D, Nev.) and Reps. Nita Lowey (D, N.Y.) and Jim Greenwood (R, Pa.). Last year, Congress required health plans sold to federal employees to provide the coverage.

But along with the coverage issue comes a debate over emergency contraception, abortion, and pharmacist conscience clauses. A national physician's organization has called on pharmacists to stop turning away women trying to fill Rxs for emergency contraception; abortion rights activists have urged creation of a similarly oriented pharmacists' group; and a major pharmacy chain has declined to stock the only specially packaged emergency contraceptive, Gynetics Inc.'s Preven (levonorgestrel 0.25 mg and ethinyl estradiol 0.05 mg).

According to the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP), 49% of large group health plans do not routinely cover any contraceptive method, and as few as 15% cover all five of the most common reversible methods: oral contraceptives, diaphragms, Depo Provera, IUDs, and Norplant. The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that the maximum cost of covering those five methods would be $21.40 annually per employee.

Although contraceptive-equity legislation had been introduced before, last year's very public debate over which health plans would cover Viagra (sildenafil, Pfizer) reenergized the effort. "It pointed out the discriminatory nature of not covering contraceptives," said Brenda Romney, a Washington lobbyist for CRLP. "It helped fan the flames of outrage that women across the country and men across the country feel about the fact that contraceptive coverage is excluded in a lot of health plans." That's just fine with Bo Kuhar, executive director of Pharmacists for Life International (PFLI), an anti- abortion-rights group based in Ohio. …

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