Pharmacists enter the fray

There has been a lot of media attention lately on pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions they don’t agree with, namely the Morning After Pill and oral contraceptives. The Washington Post’s expose last month (Pharmacists’ Rights at Front Of New Debate) sparked a sudden flurry of legal activity on both sides of the line. So far, four states have passed legislation allowing pharmacist’s with moral objections to refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions, and 12 other states are thinking about it (Map of US States currently considering “No Refill” legislation). However, states like Illinois and Arizona have gone out of their way to make sure that these prescriptions will be filled, come hell or high water, and are now coming under attack for their decisions.

While I find myself applauding IL and AZ, I do think the focus of all of this legislation is slightly misplaced. Rather than passing laws which mandate that pharmacists must fill all prescriptions, why not pass laws that mandate that pharmacies must fill all prescriptions, and leave the staffing and compliance issues to them to sort out? This would allow conscientious pharmacists to object to their heart’s content, without infringing on a woman’s right to reproductive medicine. The important thing here is that the service is available, and that there’s someone at the pharmacy willing to fill such prescriptions.

However, I am saddened by the fact that legislation like this is necessary in the first place, and I am shocked by the audacity of these invididuals to impose their moral conscience on their clients, in some cases even going so far as to lecture the unfortunate woman who was just trying to get her prescription filled, or withholding the prescription until the crucial 72 hour window for the Morning After Pill had passed .

I most recently read Leonard Pitt’s op-ed in the Detroit Free Press (Pharmacists’ job is to fill prescriptions), and frankly, I couldn’t agree with him more. A pharmacist’s job is to fill prescriptions. As he so eloquently sums up: “People have an absolute right — indeed, an absolute duty — to oppose abortion if conscience so dictates. They have the right to pen letters to the editor, to support politicians who share their views, to demonstrate and agitate.

But no one has the right to refuse to perform some foreseeable aspect of their job.”

If you’re a doctor with strong moral objections to abortion or contraception, you really shouldn’t go into obstetrics. If you’re a pharmacist with strong beliefs about the type of prescriptions you fill, why did you go into pharmacy? Surely it would have occurred to you at some point that your job description might entail filling such distasteful prescriptions? As a future midwife, my job is someday going to entail performing circumcisions, something which I don’t think is necessary, and something I would never choose for my own son, but I would NEVER lecture my clients on their decision to have their baby circumcized, or point-blank refuse to do it. It’s part of my job, and it’s not my choice to make. My job is to offer a service, not my opinion.

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