A coalition of women's groups and family planning organizations on Friday urged Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to change its policy and start stocking emergency contraceptive pills in its pharmacies.
The groups, claiming a total membership of 10 million women, called on Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott to stop blocking access to a legal medication.
Their joint statement came in the same week that three Boston women filed a suit against Wal-Mart, contending that the retail giant violated Massachusetts state law by failing to stock emergency contraceptives, also known as "morning-after" pills, in its pharmacies.
"Wal-Mart's actions are clearly an outrageous intrusion into the health and privacy of all U.S. women. When a doctor prescribes emergency contraception for a woman, Wal-Mart does not have the right to overrule that decision," the joint statement said.
Signatories were the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Women's Organizations, together with a union-funded anti-Wal-Mart campaign group, WakeUpWalmart.com.
Wal-Mart has said it does not stock the drug for business reasons because it is not commonly prescribed. But Wal-Mart indicated for the first time Friday it may be rethinking that policy.
Company spokeswoman Mona Williams said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company had not stocked the pills in the past, except where required by law, because there seemed to be less customer demand than for other medication.
"However, women's health is a high priority for Wal-Mart, so clearly there are broader considerations and we are giving this a lot of thought," Williams told The Associated Press.
Williams declined to elaborate when asked if that meant Wal-Mart was considering stocking the medication nationally.
Wal-Mart has said that when it doesn't stock a particular drug, its pharmacies refer customers to other stores.
But the joint statement by the women's groups said that was a hollow gesture in communities where Wal-Mart may be the only pharmacy for miles around.
"To be most effective, emergency contraception should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure," the groups said. "No woman at risk for unintended pregnancy, be it the result of a broken condom or sexual assault, should be turned away by Wal-Mart and forced to find another pharmacy while the clock is ticking."