Pharmacists Refusing to Give Birth Control Pills

The Washington Post fronts news that a growing number of pharmacists are refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives or the “morning after” pill, on the grounds it is against their moral principles.

Pharmacists’ Rights at Front Of New Debate (A1)

Some pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs. The trend has opened a new front in the nation’s battle over reproductive rights, sparking an intense debate over the competing rights of pharmacists to refuse to participate in something they consider repugnant and a woman’s right to get medications her doctor has prescribed. It has also triggered pitched political battles in statehouses across the nation as politicians seek to pass laws either to protect pharmacists from being penalized — or force them to carry out their duties.

“This is a very big issue that’s just beginning to surface,” said Steven H. Aden of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom in Annandale, which defends pharmacists. “More and more pharmacists are becoming aware of their right to conscientiously refuse to pass objectionable medications across the counter. We are on the very front edge of a wave that’s going to break not too far down the line.”

An increasing number of clashes are occurring in drugstores across the country. Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by sometimes-lecturing men and women in white coats. “There are pharmacists who will only give birth control pills to a woman if she’s married. There are pharmacists who mistakenly believe contraception is a form of abortion and refuse to prescribe it to anyone,” said Adam Sonfield of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which tracks reproductive issues. “There are even cases of pharmacists holding prescriptions hostage, where they won’t even transfer it to another pharmacy when time is of the essence.”

As with all anecdotal stories, one wonders how much of a “trend” this is. Even when I lived in rural Alabama, I never heard of pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control pills. My guess is that this “trend” is a handful of pharmacists.

From a “rights” standpoint, I’m not sure how this is different from an OB-GYN who refuses to perform abortions. I would presume that dispensing contraceptives would be a small fraction of a pharmacist’s job, so it shouldn’t be a licensing issue (although employers should be free to terminate pharmacists who won’t do the job). From a practical standpoint, in all but the smallest towns, this would be a non-issue. If the pharmacist at XYZ Drugs won’t dispense birth control pills, all one would have to do would be to start going to ABC Drugs.

FILED UNDER: Health, Religion,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Just Me says:

    I live in a town with two red lights.

    There are three pharmacies withing 10 minutes of my home. I really doubt there are women out there who can’t get their bc pills or a MAP.




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  2. Meezer says:

    Ditto. I live in an area of Indiana where many of the towns have one stop sign (not light), where there are strong religious congregations of all kinds, and I’ve never heard of anyone who couldn’t get bc.




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  3. Charlie Pewterson says:

    So now we have my health care decided, not by my doctor but by someone who feels he/she has the right to impose their idea of right and wrong on me. Today it’s birth comtrol pills, what’s next. Suppose “they” decide tomorrow that certain diseases and sent from God, or that your disease is your own fault. Would they then have the right to refuse digoxin, insulin, or say, serequel, an antipsychotic? It may sound far fetched now but so did the idea of birth control pills until it actually happened. Where will it stop. Will your medication be next? What about medications for HIV/AIDS? Do “they” have a right to refuse to fill those prescriptions? Remember the little blurb, they came for the Jews and I said nothing…..and many other groups in sucession, and when they came for me there was nobody left to protest. Whose medication is next?




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  4. James Joyner says:

    Even to the extent that birth control pills constitute “health care,” the pharmacists here aren’t “deciding” it. They’re merely not selling specific pills. Unless we get to the point where some significant number of people are unable to get medicine, I just don’t see a regulatory problem.

    Businesses that won’t sell their customers what they want cease operating.




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  5. I live in rural Pennsylvania (my home address begins R.R. #nn). I know of only one pharmacy that is within 5 miles of my home that ISN’T Eckard, RiteAd or CVS. This doesn’t take into account the 4 or so grocery stores that have their own in-house pharmacy. So in a 5 mile radius there are at least 6 pharmacies.

    Unless and until you see a trend where Chain-Stores stop distributing drugs, this is really a non-issue.




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  6. Ryan says:

    I agree that it’s not too difficult to go to another pharmacy. I grew up in a town with no traffic lights and even it had a pharmacy, as did another town less than 10 miles away. However, that doesn’t help you if the pharmacist won’t let you take the prescription to another pharmacy. This isn’t just about a pharmacist denying to fill a prescription. There are also pharmacists who are refusing to transfer the prescriptions so the patients can go elsewhere to fill the prescriptions.

    It’s one thing for a pharmacist to not fill a prescription. However, it is simply wrong for a pharmacist to not only not fill a prescription but to also hold a prescription hostage and prevent the patient from going to another pharmacist to get the prescription filled.

    Don’t fill the prescription if you don’t want but the pharmacist should have no right to prevent the patient’s ability to go elsewhere to fulfill the will of the doctor and patient.




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  7. Ryan says:

    I agree that it’s not too difficult to go to another pharmacy. I used to live in a town with no traffic lights and even it had a pharmacy, as did another town less than 10 miles away. However, that doesn’t help you if the pharmacist won’t let you take the prescription to another pharmacy. This isn’t just about a pharmacist denying to fill a prescription. There are also pharmacists who are refusing to transfer the prescriptions so the patients can go elsewhere to fill the prescriptions.

    It’s one thing for a pharmacist to not fill a prescription. However, it is simply wrong for a pharmacist to not only not fill a prescription but to also hold a prescription hostage and prevent the patient from going to another pharmacist to get the prescription filled.

    Don’t fill the prescription if you don’t want but the pharmacist should have no right to prevent the patient’s ability to go elsewhere to fulfill the will of the doctor and patient.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    Ryan: Yes, I agree that theft is a bad thing.




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  9. dw says:

    There have been a couple of cases out in the West where a pharmacist won’t fill a scrip and the nearest drugstore that will is more than 30 miles away. That’s about the worst of it. It’s a problem, but it’s not anywhere near the pervasive scope the WaPo makes it out to me. I mean, the Seattle Times covered it two years ago, and then I think there were only 4 or 5 pharmacists in the state that were refusing to fill bc for one reason or another.

    One difference between Washington and other states, though, is that pharmacists out here can prescribe birth control without requiring a doctor’s visit. A women who wants to go on The Pill can walk up to any pharmacist in this state and, with counseling, receive it. Some druggists out here object to this on top of all their anti-BC issues.

    And, you know, it shouldn’t be a problem. If a pharmacist doesn’t want to fill a prescription, they have that right. But it would be nice to require the pharmacy to put a sign in 2″ high red letters in their front window that said “WE DO NOT FILL BIRTH CONTROL PRESCRIPTIONS.”




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  10. Larry Metcalf says:

    With the over crowding of our planet, we need to do something to ease the dramatic increase in population.

    Besides that, I ponder.. Who in their right mind would want to bring a child in to a world like we have today?

    The United States is far too over burdened with just the gross influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal.

    It has to stop somewhere.




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