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March 28, 2005

Should Pharmacists' Religious Beliefs Obstruct Access to Medication?

WaPo fronts an article by Rob Stein, "Pharmacists' Rights at Front of New Debate: Because of Beliefs, Some Refuse To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions." Apparently, across the country some pharmacists have decided that their personal religious beliefs have declared birth control a form of abortion, and therefore refuse to dispense it. Some even refuse to transfer the prescription to a pharmacy that will fulfill its obligations.

Here's the thing: I don't go to a faith healer for my medical problems. I expect my medical services to be delivered by people who leave their personal beliefs at the door when they serve me. That's why I dislike going to religious hospitals and why its difficult for me to be unbiased about this issue. As a woman, I abhor the notion that anyone has the right to deny me my reproductive rights.

I experienced the need for the morning after pill when I was unemployed and uninsured. Thankfully, I was living in LA at the time and was able to find a pharmacist in my area who would give me a prescription (thanks to the more women-friendly laws of California, you can get the morning after pill there without a prescription). The pharmacist provided me with plenty of information on the drug. I couldn't imagine needing that medication and being denied by a judgmental pharmacist.

Furthermore, denying birth control is a slap in the face to all women. I can't tell you how amazing it is to have less severe menstrual cramps and less bleeding - two amazing aspects of being on birth control. Those effects have nothing to do with whether or not I'm sexually active. I can't believe people believe they have the right to place their moral judgments on my body and my access to legal medication.

I am saddened by the state of this country. The US Government is not only denying access to reproductive care around the world, we're being denied basic access within our country.

Posted by cj at March 28, 2005 12:46 PM

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So, by your logic, pro-life surgeons should be compelled to perform abortions and environmentally minded lawyers should be compelled to represent oil companies, right?

Posted by: Alex Knapp at March 31, 2005 12:58 PM

Actually, by my logic a vegetarian shouldn't work at Arby's and state that she can't handle meat because it offends her personal morals.

There is a vast difference between surgeons and lawyers and pharmacists - the former two instigate aid, whilst the latter is part of the healthcare support team. A patient/physician decision should never be affected by the beliefs of pharmacists. Furthermore, birth control is not and has never been a form of abortion, nor do I believe that emergency contraception is a form of abortion.

Posted by: C.J. at March 31, 2005 1:09 PM

I see your point, but most state laws only allow pharmacists to refuse to dispence medication IF it is available elsewhere. If such an alternative exists, then shouldn't we allow the pharmacist to not act against his or her own beliefs?

Posted by: Alex Knapp at March 31, 2005 1:34 PM

How do you legislate to make sure medication is available and accessible at all times? What if the only pharmacy in a town that is open 24 hours is staffed in the middle of the night by a pharmacist who refuses to dispense emergency contraception? What about patients who are scared into not filling their prescriptions by pharmacists who deliver moral sermons along with their refusal to dispense the prescription?

I do not think pharmacists have a right to not fulfill their job duties based on moral beliefs. If a company wants to offer their employees the option of refusing to fill prescriptions, I believe the company is obligated to also provide the public with an alternative pharmacist at the same location. I also think pharmacists do not have the right to act as spiritual advisors while barring individuals from accessing legal medication.

Posted by: C.J. at March 31, 2005 2:25 PM

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