The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically allows anyone over the age of 17 to purchase emergency contraception regardless of gender, but Walgreens stores in Texas and Mississippi seem to be having trouble enacting that policy. On at least two separate occasions earlier this year, the company denied access to the “morning-after pill” to men who were not accompanied by their female partners. (More on Time.com: Are You Fertile? Don’t Rely on a Drug-Store Fertility Test to Tell You)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited Walgreens for flouting FDA guidelines in January and May. In November, another incident at Walgreens caught the ACLU’s attention again. On Nov. 17 the ACLU wrote on its Blog of Rights: “Couples who work together to make healthy decisions about contraception should be supported. So why is it that local Walgreens in Texas have repeatedly refused to sell contraception to men, despite corporate headquarters policy and federal guidelines to the contrary?”
In the most recent incident, a man named Adam Drake was denied emergency contraception (EC) by Walgreens pharmacist Mydung Le in Houston, because his girlfriend had not accompanied him to make the purchase. Although Drake showed Le identification confirming that his age was 17 or older, Le said she needed age information for the person who would actually take the drug. A store manager agreed with Le, and refused to dispense the medication. However, according to the FDA and Walgreens’ own corporate policy, that refusal was illegal. (More on Time.com: Trick or Treat? Oregon Couple Handed Out Condoms to Mixed Reviews)
Drake went to a neighboring CVS that was able to honor his request. It troubles contraceptive choice advocates, however, that both Le and her manager seemed ill-informed about federal guidelines (minimum age update here). They both insisted to Drake that the pharmacist could lose her license if she dispensed emergency contraception to him. The manager went on to suggest that emergency contraception could be used in a predatory way or unlawful way. From the ACLU’s Nov. 16 letter [PDF] to Walgreens, regarding the Drake incident:
The next day, [Mr. Drake] received a call from the store manager apologizing for the inconvenience. She also said that the pharmacist has the right to refuse service, and that the store has an unwritten rule that they will not sell the produce to men unless the woman is present because he may give it to an underage person. She then commented that there have been news reports of men dropping EC into women’s drinks. This comment upset Mr. Drake because it implied that perhaps his intention was to do something unlawful with the drug.
Alarmed by the store’s misinformation and the paranoid tenor of the employees’ attitudes toward emergency contraception, the ACLU requested that Walgreens enact employee training in Texas-area stores. Walgreens made no public comment.
UPDATE: Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens, contacted Healthland to say that although the company received the ACLU’s letter only Tuesday, the company had already launched an investigation after reading about the incident involving Mr. Drake in a local paper. “Walgreens does have policy and procedures in place that ensure that male and female customers over 17 years of age have access to emergency contraception,” Polzin said.
He said the company would investigate the incident, but would also make sure the policy was known to its employees in Texas. “We’re going to contact our stores in the area to make sure that our staff and managers in the area understand our policy,” he said.