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LIFE DIGEST: Morning-after pill battles spread to Wal-Mart; unborn child benefits from first-ever heart procedure

Updated Feb. 9

WASHINGTON (BP)–A new front has opened in the war over pharmacists’ freedom not to dispense abortion-causing contraceptives.

Three Massachusetts women sued Wal-Mart Feb. 1 for not stocking emergency contraceptives in its pharmacies in the state. By not making the “morning-after” pill known as Plan B available, the giant retail chain has violated a state regulation requiring pharmacies to provide “commonly prescribed medicines,” the lawsuit said, according to the Associated Press.

Wal-Mart does not consider the emergency contraceptive a “commonly prescribed” drug, a store lawyer said in a letter to a lawyer for the women filing suit, AP reported.

Many people with pro-life views believe the “morning-after” pill is an abortifacient because it not only restricts ovulation in a woman but it can act after conception. The method can block implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall, thereby causing an abortion, pro-lifers point out.

Wal-Mart, which has 44 stores and four Sam’s Clubs in Massachusetts, does not stock Plan B in its pharmacies in any state, except Illinois, where it is required. All of the other primary pharmacy chains in Massachusetts carry Plan B, according to The Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts affiliates of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America, two leading abortion rights organizations, are supporting the women who have sued Wal-Mart, AP reported.

Meanwhile, another Illinois pharmacist has run afoul of the state’s unique rule issued last year by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat.

Planned Parenthood filed a complaint against Ethan Vandersand, a Wal-Mart pharmacist in Beardstown, Ill., for refusing to fill a prescription Feb. 2 for Plan B, according to LifeNews.com.

In addition, more than 35 picketers protested outside a Walgreen Co. store Feb. 2 in Wichita, Kan., after a pharmacist declined to fill a prescription for emergency contraception, AP reported.

The incidents are the latest in a series of complaints against or firings of pharmacists who have refused to fill prescriptions for “morning-after” pills because to do so would violate their consciences.

Walgreen placed four of its pharmacists in Illinois stores on unpaid leave in November. The American Center for Law and Justice filed a suit against the chain on behalf of the pharmacists Jan. 27.

In Missouri, Heather Williams, a part-time pharmacist for a Target store in St. Charles, Mo., was fired Jan. 1.

According to LifeNews, an Illinois official said an Osco drug store in St. Charles, Ill., paid a $37,500 fine because of an emergency contraception complaint.

The “morning-after” pill is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved prescription use of two brands of the “morning-after” pill, Plan B and Preven. The FDA is considering whether to permit over-the-counter sale of Plan B without a prescription to women 16 years of age and older.

A FIRST IN BOSTON –- Grace VanDerwerken left a Boston hospital Jan. 27, more than 11 weeks after surgeons performed a first-ever procedure for a severe heart defect in utero and possibly saved her life.

A team of surgeons from Children’s Hospital Boston, as well as from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, placed a stint in Grace’s heart when she was at 30 weeks in her mother’s womb, according to a news release from Children’s Hospital. The tiny tube enabled blood to flow from the left chamber to the right, thereby preventing permanent damage to her lungs and pulmonary vessels.

The surgery came several weeks after her parents, Jay and Angela VanDerwerken of Ashburn, Va., were told their unborn child had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a defect in which the left chamber does not develop properly. In addition, there was no passage between the heart’s two upper chambers, making her chances of surviving after birth only 20 to 50 percent.

Operating Nov. 7, the surgeons used ultrasound to move a catheter through Angela’s abdomen and uterus and into Grace’s heart. A needle, plus a balloon, were used to make two holes in the wall between the chambers, and a stint was placed in the second hole. Cheers filled the operating room when a monitor showed blood was flowing through the stint.

“Everyone seemed very excited about the ‘technical’ success of the procedure, although no one could tell us exactly what that meant for the future,” Angela VanDerwerken said.

Angela returned to Boston in early January, and Grace was born Jan. 10, weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces and “without any sign of breathing problems,” Jay said.

Three days later, Grace underwent the first part of surgical repair for HLHS. She is expected to return to Boston in four to six months for the next stage of surgery.

A FATHER TAKES ACTION -– A New Jersey businessman has grieved his daughter’s suicide after she had an abortion, and he has taken action.

George Zallie has established a foundation, with its own Internet site, in an effort to help post-abortion women like his daughter, Stacy. She committed suicide in October 2002, nearly a year after an abortion at the age of 20, according to the Courier-Post, a Cherry Hill, N.J., newspaper.

Stacy hid the abortion from her family and took her life only days before she was to be a bridesmaid in her brother’s wedding, the newspaper reported. Her father is certain her emotional state as a result of the abortion led to her suicide.

“It was the most serious issue in that brief life of hers,” Zallie, 53, told the Courier-Post. “I know, in my heart, it took a toll on her emotionally and mentally, that she couldn’t recover from it. And it just breaks my heart that she didn’t open up.”

Zallie acknowledged he did not have strong feelings on abortion. When he attended a retreat for post-abortive women, Zallie decided he needed to do something to help others face what his daughter did.

“I heard guilt, remorse, loss,” he said of the retreat, where he was the only man with 22 women, according to the newspaper. “Their frankness was really astounding to me. It was helpful to me in understanding just what Stacy was going through…. It became important to me to get the message out.”

The foundation and website Zallie established do not take a position on abortion. The website provides information on organizations that provide help with “no judgment, no political agenda.” While the website says pro-lifers and pro-choices are “equally blind to the ways” they fail to provide understanding and compassion, it recommends national, faith-based organizations such as Rachel’s Vineyard and Heartbeat International.