Unprotected sex, under any circumstances, can be scary, embarrassing, and confusing enough. Three local women are suing Wal-Mart for making it even worse.
Katrina McCarty, 29, Julie Battel, 37, and Rebekah Gee, 30, all went to Wal-Marts in Quincy and Lynn with valid prescriptions for emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill.” They were turned away, victims of Wal-Mart’s national policy of not stocking or selling the drug. Now the women are suing the giant corporation, hoping their suit will force Wal-Mart to change its policy in Massachusetts, if not nationally. Access to emergency contraception, they say, is a crucial ingredient in the struggle to reduce the number of abortions in the United States. (The medication works either by stalling ovulation, or by preventing fertilization or implantation of an embryo in the uterus.)
Their lawyers at the Boston firm Brody, Hardoon, Perkins, & Kesten filed suit last week, claiming that the multi-billion-dollar corporation is violating a Massachusetts regulation that requires licensed pharmacies to stock all “commonly prescribed” medications — of which emergency contraception (EC) is certainly one.
“Wal-Mart apparently thinks it is above the law,” attorney Sam Perkins said at a press conference last week, where he and the plaintiffs were joined by representatives from Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and NARAL Pro-Choice Mass. Perkins accused Wal-Mart of adopting the policy “based on ideological grounds,” an allegation that isn’t too far-fetched given the corporation’s conservative philanthropy.
The suit is the first of its kind in the nation, and Perkins hopes that what happens in the Bay State could turn the tide nationwide (Illinois is the only state where Wal-Mart currently stocks EC).
“We have not carried emergency contraceptives in the past, except as required by law, because there seemed to be little customer demand,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams told the Phoenix, echoing the position of Wal-Mart spokespeople in the past. “However, women’s health is an important priority for Wal-Mart, so clearly there are broader considerations, and we are continuing to think about it.”
It may just be corporate-flack rhetoric, but it offers some hope to Massachusetts women affected by the suit and even greater hope to those who live in rural sections of the country, where a Wal-Mart may be the only pharmacy for miles.
“Sex doesn’t always happen during office hours,” says plaintiff Gee, a chief resident at Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General hospitals, who lives in Boston. Gee thinks EC should be available to women as an “advance prescription,” to keep in the medicine cabinet for emergencies. “It’s my right to be able to have that prescription, and to have it filled. By refusing to provide it, I think that violates the patient-physician contract.”
Says McCarty, a Somerville resident and the government-affairs director for Jane Doe Inc., which works against sexual and domestic violence statewide: “We shouldn’t be putting the burden on women who may not have the resources to shop around.”