Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Depends On Whose Conscience It Is 

At last. Big story in the NYTimes on the Conscience Claws:
"In some states, legislators are pushing laws that would explicitly grant pharmacists the right to refuse to dispense drugs related to contraception or abortion on moral grounds. Others want to require pharmacies to fill any legal prescription for birth control, much like Governor Blagojevich's emergency rule in Illinois, which requires pharmacies that stock the morning-after pill to dispense it without delay. And in some states, there are proposals or newly enacted laws to make the morning-after pill more accessible, by requiring hospitals to offer it to rape victims or allowing certain pharmacists to sell it without a prescription."
First of all, the morning after pill is not abortion. Second, pharmacists have a duty to patients that, when the patient's welfare is at stake, overrides their personal beliefs.

And as the Times notes, this is a two-edged sword, since today's refusal to supply contraception can easily become tomorrow's refusal to provide any number of other crucial medications. All it needs is one queasy pharmacist with objections to homosexuality to refuse to provide HIV drugs. I don't know what the overall national reaction is going to be when this whole mess is finally out of the closet, but the Oh-So-Delicate-Sensibilities crowd is ready. They've been on it since day one:
"This is going to be a huge national issue in the future," said Paul Caprio, director of Family-Pac, a conservative group that urged pharmacists in Illinois to ignore Governor Blagojevich's rule. "Pharmacists are coming forward saying that they want to exercise their rights of conscience."
The contagion is spreading. 12 states have bills pending to allow pharmacists to withhold dispensing of birth control if they so choose. And here's the politics makes strange bedfellows part:
"Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, have introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which would allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense certain drugs as long as another pharmacist on duty would."
Fill in your own expletive here. As I see it, this is an illegal discrimination issue, and I say that very seriously. There is such a thing as "disparate impact", in which a policy can appear neutral on its face, but disproportionately impacts an entire class of people, and if this doesn't disproportionately affect women as a class, I don't know what would. I want a lawsuit.

But for the best guffaw, there's this:
"The Massachusetts law would also require hospitals to inform rape victims about the pill, something Catholic hospitals, in particular, object to. Colorado's governor, Bill Owens, a Republican and a Catholic, vetoed such a bill this month, saying in his explanation, "it is one of the central tenets of a free society that individuals and institutions should not be coerced by government to engage in activities that violate their moral or religious beliefs."
So explain to me why we send people with conscientious objections to Iraq, please?

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