Nurses Vote With Their Feet on Morning After Pill; vindicated by Feds

Steven Mosher
PRI Weekly Briefing
4 August 2004 Vol. 6 / No. 26
Reproduced with Permission

Recently an act of courage by a small number health care-professionals went under-reported nationwide. While the national media is eager to report stories that are pro-"morning-after pill," Associated Press writer Bob Johnson did extensive reporting on the objections of health care workers in Alabama to distributing the "Plan-B" morning after pill, which was picked up by local Alabama markets but relatively few mid-sized markets nationwide. To our knowledge, only the Fox News Channel reported the story nationwide.

The story concerns 11 nurses employed by the Alabama Department of Public Health who have quit their jobs rather than distribute the "Plan-B" "morning after pill," also known as "emergency contraception."

"The first time I had to do it, it made me physically sick and I told that to my supervisor," said Nurse Donna Tyner, to the Associated Press. Tyner resigned from her job as a nurse practitioner at state public health clinics in the Montgomery area.

According to the AP story of June 29, Tyner quit because she felt she was being required to distribute the pills, even though she is morally and religiously opposed to the process.

An editorial in the "Montgomery Advertiser" of July 7, 2004 reported that while several nurses have resigned over moral and ethical concerns, accommodations have been made for those who object to distributing "Plan-B" and that none have been fired.

But according to the AP, Tyner said she quit after she was told she had no other options when the health department began issuing the emergency contraceptives in April to women at its family planning clinics across the state.

"I told my supervisor that I was not comfortable doing it," said Tyner, who is now working at private rural health clinics in Lee and Russell counties. "When she got back to me, she said it was part of the protocol and that if I refused to do it, the first time I'd be reprimanded and the second time I'd be terminated."

Tyner said that in counseling, women at the clinics are being told that the emergency contraceptives are one birth control option available to them.

"It's one of the things you have to go over with them. We're encouraging promiscuous behavior," Tyner said.

Tyner also told the AP that she hates that she had to quit her health department job.

"There are very good people at the health department. It's a strong organization that does a lot of good for people," Tyner said. "I wouldn't have left if emergency contraception had not become an issue."

State Health Officer Don Williamson has said federal officials require states to make available a variety of birth control options to receive federal family planning money.

The nine members of Alabama's congressional delegation have written a letter to Williamson "to clarify federal policy," which they said does not require distribution of emergency contraceptives to receive the federal funding.

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama told the AP that he is concerned about the clinics distributing emergency contraceptives and has discussed the issue with Williamson.

"I have been assured that accommodation is being made for anyone who objects," Riley said. (Associated Press June 29)

The AP also reported that State health department officials say they had to begin offering the morning-after pill in order to continue receiving federal Title X money for the department's family planning program.

Now, one month later the AP is reporting that "The Alabama Department of Public Health is not required to distribute emergency contraceptives, also called "morning after pills," at its family planning clinics, according to a letter from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to an Alabama U.S. Rep.."

The AP reports that U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, had asked Thompson to clarify federal requirements after workers began distributing the pills at state clinics earlier this year.

Aderholt said Wednesday that he asked Thompson to clarify federal rules concerning federal family planning funds after he received complaints from health department nurses in his north Alabama district.

In the letter, Thompson said state family planning clinics are expected to offer a "broad range" of family planning methods, but that they are not required to offer emergency contraceptives.

"The current Title X statute, regulations and guidelines do not mandate the distribution of emergency contraceptive pills," Thompson said in the letter.

"There's not a mandate to do this," Aderholt said. "I don't think it's the best policy to proceed with this, but now they (health department officials) can only say it's their policy to proceed."

Dr. Tom Miller, health department family planning director told the AP that 11 nurses have quit their jobs at the clinics because of moral objections to the emergency contraceptives. He said he has received about 50 requests from clinic employees to be assigned to different jobs because they did not want to distribute the pills. He said arrangements have so far been made for all but a couple of those workers to be reassigned. (AP July 28)

What do those 11 nurses who resigned from Alabama Department of Public Health and 50 other employees who requested reassignment - so as not to distribute morning after pills - know that Dr. Miller does not?