Nurse quits job to avoid distributing "morning-after" pills
By BOB JOHNSON
Associated Press Writer
Nine state health department nurses have resigned at least partly over concerns about the agency distributing emergency contraceptives, also known as "morning-after" pills, at family planning clinics.
"The first time I had to do it, it made me physically sick and I told that to my supervisor," said Donna Tyner, who resigned from her job as a nurse practitioner at state public health clinics in the Montgomery area. She said she quit because she felt she was being required to distribute the pills, even though she is morally and religiously opposed to the process.
Health department officials have said they were making accommodations for clinic workers who said they had moral concerns about using the pills, which women take after they have had intercourse. Dr. Tom Miller, family planning director for the health department, said the nine nurses resigned voluntarily and no employees have been fired for refusing to distribute the emergency contraceptives.
But 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 she has moral and religious objections to use of the emergency contraceptives, which consist of a heavy dose of birth control pills taken by a woman within 72 hours after she had intercourse.
"The medical definition is that you are not pregnant until the egg implants. The Christian definition is that you are pregnant after conception," Tyner said.
Miller said the emergency contraceptives do not cause a woman to abort a growing fetus, like the pill RU-486 does, but instead prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus.
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.
Miller said he respects the concerns of health department employees and has visited several clinics to discuss the issue with workers.
"But I also have an obligation to provide services to our clients. It's not appropriate for me or any other group to dictate public health policy, based on personal beliefs," Miller said.
Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles said he has been contacted by "about a half-dozen" health department employees who said they had resigned over the issue.
"There are probably another half-dozen who have called and said they are still employed and are having to administer the pills and don't want to administer the pills," Giles said.
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 said Tuesday 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.
Tyner said 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."