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Briefing and Opinion
June 10, 2005

Left: Stephani Cox, Right: Ron Stephens
1. Pharmacists' Refusals
2. Values in the Workplace
3. Objection or Harrassment
4. Barrier to Access
5. Ending Pregnancy?
6. Reducing Abortion Rates
7. Right of Conscience
8. Role of Government
9. A Dangerous Precedent?
10. Reproductive Rights
Ron Stephens is a devout Christian, a Republican state representative of Illinois, and the owner of one of only two pharmacies in the small town of Troy, Illinois. His religious beliefs have put him at odds with a new state law requiring pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions, including those for the morning-after emergency contraceptive.

Stephani Cox is the director of patient services at the area Planned Parenthood in Springfield, Illinois.
Q: Is this not putting a potential serious barrier to access for women, particularly in small towns?

STEPHENS: This country was founded on several basic tenants, one of which was freedom of religion. It wasn't founded on inconvenience. If it's a question of your inconvenience versus my religious beliefs and you are the state telling me that convenience wins out, I'm sorry. I'm going to maintain my religious belief. We're fairly certain that even in rural, downstate Illinois, no one has to travel more than 30 miles to get an alternative service. So I don't think it's a practical objection.

COX: It's definitely a barrier. The morning after pill works best when taken within 72 hours, and even though the window has been extended to 120 hours now, the sooner that you take it, the more effective that it is. In the past what has happened was the patient would get to the pharmacy to pick up her legal validly-ordered medication and be turned down by the pharmacist, just be told, no, that they were unwilling to fill it. Sometimes they would tell them erroneous information: that it was causing an abortion or killing babies. Then the patient would call me back hysterical, most of the time, crying, because there is a short window of time when it is most effective.

Q: How is the morning-after pill different from other contraceptives?

STEPHENS: The morning-after pill is an entirely different concept. There's a huge difference between taking a pill to prevent pregnancy, and taking a pill to end a pregnancy, because we don't know where that fertilized egg is, along the way. We do know that if you take the morning-after pill and you are pregnant, it will end that pregnancy. I believe that it is just like an abortion and I don't want to participate in that.
COX: Medically, pregnancy is defined as implantation. Emergency contraception works to prevent implantation, or to prevent ovulation so that the egg is never even fertilized. You can't get any test that would show a pregnancy until implantation occurs, and the morning-after pill works only before implantation. Should a woman be in early pregnancy and unaware of it and take emergency contraception, it will do absolutely nothing. It does not cause an abortion, and it does not cause any harm to the fetus.
Q: What about the potential for the morning-after pill to reduce abortion rates?

STEPHENS: My personal belief is that when they issue Plan B, they are terminating a pregnancy. I would question whether statistics about ending abortion or limiting abortion are true at all. Maybe when people have a chance to look at Plan B, they start to think a little bit ahead, and say, "You know what? I don't really have to get pregnant. I don't really have to use this." Maybe it raises their level of consciousness, so that they decide that there are better ways to prevent pregnancy, than to wait until you're pregnant, and then decide.
COX: I have noticed a decline. We don't have as many people coming in for pregnancy tests period, mainly because they do have a second chance and more people are aware of emergency contraception. Prevent a pregnancy and you don't have a need for an abortion. If you don't want A to occur, then let's do B, PlanB. That is the only way that the numbers of abortion are ever going to drop.Why would they oppose something that can prevent the pregnancy from occurring?