The next time you head to the pharmacy, beware. The personal views of the pharmacist who steps up to the counter to fill your prescription just might determine whether you actually receive your medication or not.
An April 6 article in the Ventura County Star describes a state Assembly bill that has come about in response to “a (recent) campaign by a national group that encourages pharmacists who oppose abortion rights to let their conscience(s) be their guide when presented with a prescription from a patient seeking medications that could prevent a fertilized egg from developing, or (could) terminate an early pregnancy.”
AB 21, which was approved for Legislative consideration 10-3 by the Assembly Health Committee April 5, calls for a requirement that “pharmacists who out of moral or religious beliefs will not dispense emergency contraceptives or other classes of drugs, would have to notify their employers in advance and be prepared to refer patients to someone who will serve them.”
While this legislation is better than having no safeguard at all against such nonsense as a pharmacist’s refusing to fill a perfectly legal prescription, as has been pushed by groups like Pharmacists for Life and others, it is insufficient and shouldn’t be needed.
Plain and simply, there should be no question whatsoever regarding the obligation of a pharmacist to perform the job he or she is hired to do and is paid to do — dispensing legal products to paying consumers, regardless of the personal, private reasons a consumer has for requesting a particular medication. If a pharmacist has moral objections to performing this job duty, he or she has chosen the wrong profession, and should find one that better suits his or her comfort level.
If a woman has made the choice to use an emergency contraceptive, such as the “morning-after” pill, by the time she arrives at the pharmacy counter, this oftentimes difficult decision has already been made between she, her doctor, and if it applies, based on her own religious beliefs. It is not a decision that she should be made to feel guilty about at a drug store counter during an exchange with a complete stranger who has no knowledge of who she is, why she needs the medication, or what her situation is, and therefore has absolutely no right to pass judgment.
The Ventura County Star article includes the story of Karen Romano, a 39-year-old mother undergoing a miscarriage, who was prescribed a medication that would soften her cervix to assist the removal of fetal tissue. When she went to the pharmacy, however, the pharmacist called her doctor to ask why the medication had been prescribed, and when the doctor would not answer on the grounds of privacy, the pharmacist refused to fill the prescription.
To have to go through such a humiliating and degrading experience represents a cruel abuse of power by a paid employee. Suppose a woman has been sexually abused, or, like the woman in the abovementioned example, has suffered a miscarriage or a similar medical problem?
She should not under any circumstances have to answer to a drug store employee and explain her situation, or face being denied medication that her doctor has determined she needs and is legally entitled to. This logic should apply no matter what the circumstances, even if the medication has indeed been prescribed for the purpose of emergency contraction, since the “morning-after” pill is legal and the choice is simply not the pharmacist’s to make.
While the type of legislation currently being considered would at least insert a few guidelines against this type of abuse, it still leaves open the possibility that a woman can be denied needed medication at the time she requests it, which is unacceptable, even if she is referred to another pharmacy or another technician. When dealing with medical matters, time is of the essence, and the fear of having to jump through hoops thanks to an employee’s self-righteous arrogance is unjust.
Suppose I, as a journalist, refused to report anyone’s viewpoint I disagreed with? I would not be fulfilling my job duties. And suppose a salesperson refused to sell someone a product, such as a violent/sexual DVD, simply because he or she did not feel it would be useful in his or her own life, or did not agree with its “moral” implications? This is exactly what pharmacists are doing when they deny someone medication on the basis of their own views.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this dilemma is that the very Republican groups and legislators who support pharmacists denying medication come for a party that at the heart of its ideology used to champion a lack of government intervention in one’s life. But the times, they are a-changing, and this issue is but one more frigid example of our personal liberties being stripped away.
I sincerely applaud Assemblymember Keith Richman of Northridge for being the only Republican on the 13-member Health Committee panel to vote in favor of the proposed legislation. Unfortunately, among the rest of our Republican representatives in the Legislature, it seems that common sense and logical thought patterns are impossible to come by.