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.
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.