Across the country there is a debate brewing over contraception pitting pharmacists against women.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month on an incident in which a woman “obtained a prescription for an emergency contraceptive in early January after a condom broke during sex and she worried that she might become pregnant.”
The Journal Sentinel went on to report that the Walgreens pharmacist she took the prescription to “refused to fill, it then berated her as a baby killer within earshot of other customers.” The woman’s attorney also said the store’s manager sided with the pharmacist and that the woman “was too traumatized after the incident to seek out another pharmacist and later got an abortion after learning she was pregnant.”
The report also noted that although Walgreens’ policy allows for such a decision by a pharmacist based on their moral beliefs, it also “requires them to notify a manager, who will make arrangements for the prescription to be filled elsewhere — by a competitor if necessary.”
This is one of those debates that really gets my blood boiling. It makes me want to yell, “If the pharmacist doesn’t want to sell you birth control pills, then go to another pharmacist. It’s his pharmacy.”
But cooler heads must prevail — at least that’s what I’ve always been told.
A CBS story from November quotes one woman who was denied birth control by a pharmacist as saying, “Being a pharmacist … you should leave your religion or whatever aside.”
My own advice to her would be to show some respect for the fact that a pharmacy has the right to sell or not sell whatever it chooses. Implicit in the woman’s response is that the pharmacy doesn’t have that right and that the pharmacist essentially doesn’t have the right to freedom of conscience either.
She and others who would oppose a pharmacist’s right to choose what prescriptions are filled seem to believe they are entitled to use the government to force the pharmacist to fill their birth control prescription.
The same type of entitlement can be seen in a quote from a Planned Parenthood field manager who was at a rally outside of the Wisconsin Walgreens. In response to a proposed state law that The Journal Sentinel said Planned Parenthood believes will not make pharmacists responsible for referring patients to other pharmacies, the field manager said, “This is basic health care for women.”
Let me be blunt. Who cares if it’s “basic health care?” That doesn’t mean that a woman can force a pharmacist to provide her with pills or refer her to another pharmacy that will.Many people go around with a false belief that they are entitled to just about everything — whether it be a job, education or, in this case, health care.
Because the pharmacy is a private business, it is rightfully entitled to refuse to fill whatever prescription it chooses. The woman is not entitled to use government coercion to make the pharmacist fill the prescription. To do so would be government restriction of the pharmacist’s right to a free conscience.
Imagine if you were forced by the government to sell a gun to someone who you knew would use it to kill their child. While that may seem extreme, that is essentially what pharmacists who have strong moral beliefs about certain forms of contraception feel would be done to them if they were forced to fill such prescriptions.
One of the most fundamental freedoms is the freedom of conscience. Upon that freedom are based many of our other rights — including property rights and freedom of religion. In this case, the owners of the pharmacies have the right to not violate their conscience or religious beliefs by using their property, the pharmacy, to fill prescriptions that will be used for what they may deem as immoral.
Pharmacists faced with such situations should be reminded of what Albert Einstein once said: “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”
Women faced with such situations should be reminded that they can go elsewhere for their pills.
Adam Fowler is aUSF alumnus firstname.lastname@example.org