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BOSTON -- Wal-Mart's stance against the so-called "morning after" pill -- dealt another round of publicity by the Massachusetts State Pharmacy Board's decision this week to require the retailer to carry the drug at its 44 stores and four warehouse clubs in the state -- could lead to the further tarnishing of Wal-Mart's bruised public image, if the company isn't careful, according to a New York-based retail expert.
"The strange thing is why management continues to pursue policies that instantly polarize their potential shopper base," Bernard Sands, LLC v.p. -- senior retail sector analyst Richard D. Hastings told Progressive Grocer. "Wal-Mart management should review the publicity angle of these things before they make a move. In Wal-Mart's case, too much press is bad."
Hastings also noted that "for Wal-Mart, it's just another day on Earth," since the company has weathered its share of controversies, but he pointed out that "[i]f there are appeals and [the 'morning after' pill issue] bubbles up higher in the court system, then the precedent -- in either direction -- would have wider ramifications. Wal-Mart has garnered a lot of publicity for refusing to stock the emergency contraceptive in most of its stores. It currently offers the pill only in Illinois, where state law requires the company to do so.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said it would comply with the Massachusetts board's ruling, and said it is reviewing its national policy on the pill.
The pharmacy board's decision came in the wake of a suit filed by three women, backed by abortion rights groups, against Wal-Mart for not carrying the drug. According to the plaintiff, Massachusetts state policy requires pharmacies to dispense all "commonly prescribed medicines." A plaintiff's lawyer said he was ready to file suits in other states on similar grounds if Wal-Mart didn’t change its policy.