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State passes morning-after pill without prescription

ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 22, 2005

ALBANY -- The New York Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to provide easy access to the morning-after pill through pharmacists, midwives and nurses despite strong opposition by lawmakers who likened the emergency contraception to abortion.

The measure would allow girls and women to obtain the medication without a physician's visit or prescription and without parental consent regardless of the patient's age. The medication could be provided by any pharmacist, nurse or midwife who gets a blanket prescription from a physician for any customers.

The proposal, sponsored by a Republican, split the GOP-dominated chamber during a debate in which some equated the conception-interruption medication to abortion. The Democrat-led Assembly passed the measure in January. It now goes to Republican Gov. George Pataki to be signed or vetoed and could be subject to an override attempt.

Pataki will review the bill's specifics before commenting, said Pataki spokesman Kevin Quinn.

Emergency contraceptives, also known as morning-after pills and by the brand name Plan B, are intended to prevent pregnancy by ensuring that an egg does not become fertilized. Emergency contraception can reduce the chance of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of intercourse. It is different from RU-486, often called the French abortion pill, which aborts an already attached embryo.

Current state law requires a physician's visit. State Sen. Nicholas Spano, a Westchester Republican, said the measure he sponsored bypasses "the frequent difficulties encountered in obtaining medical appointments at offices with limited hours, long waits or inconvenient locations."

"Abortion is a murder," countered Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat. "We have experts and all indications are that this pill might cause abortion."

"Day by day we see how parents are taken out of the picture," Diaz said in floor debate, opposing many of his Democratic colleagues. "This is wrong, the wrong message."

Republican Sen. Hugh Farley of Schenectady County called Spano's proposal "a terrible bill ... it's flawed seriously."

"It's absolutely ludicrous there is no age limit," Farley said. "I think it promotes unprotected sex ... it's one of the worst pieces of legislation, regardless of how you feel about abortion."

The bill passed 34-27 with an unusual amount of voting across party lines. Seven other states have similar measures.

"Today, science has triumphed over politics," said Kelli Conlin, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice New York. "The state Legislature granted the women of New York greater access to birth control and gave them a second chance to prevent unintended pregnancy. Let today's vote be a call to the FDA and the Bush administration to look past partisan politics and remove roadblocks to over-the-counter approval of emergency contraception."

The group seeks full over-the-counter dispensing of the medication, without the need for the so-called blanket prescription provided to a pharmacist, nurse or midwife.

The bill passed for three years straight in the Assembly.

"This bill's passage, which is long overdue, is an important step to ensuring New York's women have access to quality, wide-ranging health care services," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat.

"We think the law will put women and children at risk," countered Kathleen Gallagher of the New York State Catholic Conference. "We think it is going to undermine families ... as a parent, it's really scary that 14-year-old kids can get these high does of hormones virtually over the counter."

Spano, who is Roman Catholic, called the bill "one of the most difficult bills we've seen in the Senate in decades."

"We have to remember the alternative to denying a young person with the opportunity of buying this pill is an abortion, and young people 12, 13, 14 years old can walk in and get an abortion in New York state," Spano said an interview.

"It creates many conflicts with my own religious teachings and background," Spano said. "But I was elected a senator, not a cardinal."

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno ended the debate: "I would not be judging others who have feelings that we are doing the right thing to avoid unwanted pregnancies," Bruno said. "I am proud to vote 'yes."'

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