A federal judge has suspended Washington state's requirement that pharmacists sell "morning-after" birth control pills, a victory for druggists who claim their moral objections to the drug are being bulldozed by the government.
In an injunction signed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton said pharmacists can refuse to sell the morning-after pill if they refer the customer to another nearby source. Pharmacists' employers also are protected by the order.
I have to ask whether there is a proximity and availability guarantee in this injunction - if the nearest pharmacy is fifty miles away and it is not established whether they will provide Plan B, then this is an unjust and unfair exemption.
"On the issue of free exercise of religion alone, the evidence before the court convinces it that plaintiffs ... have demonstrated both a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury," Leighton wrote in reply.
"Irreparable injury" - yes, they seem to be referring to a person's personal religious status and how protecting that is more important than, say, a person being allowed to fill a legal and valid prescription for medication that affects their health. Note that while this specific case affects Plan B, the door is open to refuse any prescription; I have friends who were refused their birth control pills because they were unmarried... they took them for hormonal imbalances, not for contraception. That said, I don't think we will see refusals for other medications that could encourage "immoral behavior" (ED medication, anyone?) anytime soon. Yet again, women are being forced into a position where we have to justify our decisions and prove that we deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect and professionalism.
The issue I would like to see resolved here is the problem with false advertising and deceptive practices. We need to clarify (and if necessary, redefine) the professional label of "pharmacist" and "pharmacy" and require complete transparency in what services are reasonably assumed to be provided and which will be prima facie rejected for personal beliefs. I propose that we make it a requirement that these businesses must explicitly state through a disclaimer that they do not provide all services and will refuse to fill prescriptions for certain medications (which will be specifically listed) in any place they call themselves a pharmacy - signs, advertisements, brochures, commercials, etc. Additionally, such a pseudo-pharmacy should not be allowed to be placed in a remote location where they would be the only pharmacy within a reasonable radius; they cannot be counted on to serve as a real pharmacy and people should not be deceived into thinking they can count on them to dispense legal and valid prescriptions.
Or why don't we reduce the government red tape and let the state of Washington, the only one that, to my knowledge, provides free contraception for anyone of low income who asks (Take Charge) because we recognize the value in people having the power to decide for themselves what is best for their health, their families, and their lives, decide what is best for Washington State?
Addendum: Additionally, I urge everyone to reject the comparison of this passive-aggressive act of refusal to civil disobedience, as it does not fulfill the requirements for this honored course of action in response to unjust laws in a democracy.
John Rawls describes civil disobedience as "a public, nonviolent, and conscientious act contrary to law" and urges that the disobeyer accept arrest and punishment as meted out by officials to demonstrate respect for legal procedures. Thus, Henry David Thoreau accepted his punishment of being jailed for refusing to pay taxes that would support a war; to him, acting within the bounds of his pacifist conscience was more important that staying out of jail. Additionally, nonviolence is a commonly accepted requirement of proper civil disobedience, which could extend to allowing harm to come to another through negligence of duty.
Consequently, we see that prescription refusers act covertly (they do not make it clear ahead of time to the public and authorities), allow harm to befall patients seeking their aid (through the ability to deny any prescription), attempt to circumvent the laws and obligations concerning their profession, and demand protection from legal consequences of their breach of the law. Additionally, their situation more closely matches the concept of "Rule Departure," where an official charged with specific duties refuses to fulfill those duties due to a conflict of conscience; with pharmacists, there is an expectation that they will dispense medications for any legal and valid prescription in a timely fashion, and by refusing to dispense, they violate their vested duties.
Addendum 2 (11/14): I am so excited that people are reading this blog and sharing their own opinions. But I would love to see a reasonable argument engaging the standards I have proposed rather than the usual retreat to ad hominems and overly simplistic moral doctrines. Let's come up with a solution by finding answers.