HOUSTON, TEXAS – A Houston man claims that a female CVS pharmacist refused to sell him the so-called morning after pill Plan B One-Step because he is male.
Isaac Kurtz says he went to a downtown Houston CVS store on Tuesday, intending to buy the emergency contraceptive product and a pregnancy test kit for his girlfriend.
“I had done this twice before over the past three years,” Kurtz said. “Just presented my ID and money. It’s no big deal.”
But this time, it turned into a big deal. According to Kurtz, pharmacist Thi Lee told him that he couldn’t buy Plan-B One-Step because of his gender.
“I asked her if this is a policy of CVS or if it’s a personal belief. And she straight-face tells me it’s her personal belief,” Kurtz said.
He said he then asked if another employee could sell him the pills. To which, according to Kurtz, she replied, “Only the woman can (buy the product).”
Kurtz left the store empty handed and angry. Convinced he’d been discriminated against, he went home and immediately called CVS corporate headquarters in Rhode Island to complain. He says he was told that the Houston store, which is located on Main Street near Walker, was out of Plan B One-Step stock, but that the store could order it and have it available by Saturday.
The offer was not satisfactory to Kurtz and his girlfriend, since the pill is only effective when taken within 72 hours after intercourse. And it didn’t address the crux of his complaint, his allegation of gender discrimination.
He contends that the pharmacist, “Said nothing about stock. If you’re out of stock, what’s it going to matter if my girlfriend comes in? It’s not like having my girlfriend come in will suddenly restock their supply.”
In a phone interview with The Digital Texan, pharmacist Thi Lee denied Kurtz account, insisting the reason he was turned away was not because of his gender, but due, indeed, to having no Plan B One-Step in stock. Yet Lee went on to say, “We prefer females to come in themselves because (the product) is for females and because the store can offer counseling to women wanting to take the pill.”
She referred further questions to CVS corporate headquarters, adding only that she didn’t think CVS had a policy regarding sales of Plan B One-Step to men. She was right.
In an email to The Digital Texan, CVS/Pharmacy Director of Public Relations Mike DeAngelis wrote:
“There is no company policy that prevents the sale of emergency contraception to male customers. Under federal law and some state laws, we must accommodate a religious conviction that may prevent a pharmacist from dispensing a medication, provided that other arrangements can be made in advance to ensure the customer’s medication needs can be satisfied.”
Clearly, according DeAngelis’s email, law requires all drugstores to accommodate an individual employee’s decision to refuse to personally sell products that violate that individual’s religious beliefs.
Left vague, however, is CVS’s policy of implementing the law. What does providing “other arrangements” entail? Is the pharmacist who refuses to personally make such sales required to call upon another pharmacist who will? If so, how soon? Moreover, is the balking pharmacist expected to give explanation for refusing, especially if asked to do so by a customer?
And even though DeAngelis said that CVS policy does not prohibit the sale of emergency contraception to men, does it insist that males are not to be refused?
Referring to Kurtz’s experience, DeAngelis simply wrote: “We are following up the pharmacy staff to ensure that our policies are properly followed to prevent a recurrence of this incident.”
This isn’t the first allegation of gender discrimination related to Plan B One-Step. Another Houston man, Adam Drake, accused a Walgreens store of refusing to let him buy the emergency contraceptive last year. Prompted by Drake’s case, the ACLU got involved, and determined that the discriminatory practice was not uncommon at Walgreens stores in Texas and Mississippi. Consequently, Walgreens headquarters issued a bulletin to its stores nationwide, specifically stating that emergency contraception can be sold to male and female customers, by virtue of FDA guidelines.
FDA guidelines allow anyone, age 17 and older, to purchase Plan B One-Step without a prescription. Those under 17 must have a prescription, although, until last week, the FDA was prepared to make the pill available across the counter to younger persons as well.
On December 7, the Obama administration unexpectedly vetoed the FDA’s decision to remove the age restriction, which shocked proponents and opponents, alike. According to the FDA, it was first time the agency had ever been overruled by the Department of Health and Human Services.
As for Isaac Kurtz? It’s unclear whether he intends to pursue the matter further. Although he does say that CVS has definitely lost him as a customer.
“I’m not going back there so long as she’s employed there,” said Kurtz.