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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Pharmacists exceed authority

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, April 29, 2005

Morality is somewhat of a hazy issue in America today. While the mainstream media would have you believe that “moral values” were, overwhelmingly, the most important issue on the minds of voters last November, the actual polls show that the war in Iraq and the stagnant economy trailed moral values by very slim margins – not exactly the “grand slam” Karl Rove extolled them to be. I say that morality is hazy not because I am a relativist, but because morality has taken on so many different forms. It’s hard to tell whose morality is getting airtime. Religious voices in America have reached a deafening volume since the election. This is mostly because of the widely-held belief that a high turnout of religious conservatives somehow won the election for George W. Bush. These same religious voices now feel that this administration “owes them something,” tit-for-tat. Part of the conservative agenda is getting another like-minded judge on the Supreme Court to finally challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion 32 years ago, as well as championing continued government support of so-called “Faith-Based Initiatives” and abstinence-only sex education. While most Americans are familiar with the above goals of the religious right in America, a subtle but earthshaking coup is being staged on the unlikeliest of battlefields in the abortion debate: the American pharmacy.

Pharmacists across the country are beginning to refuse to fill prescriptions of the so-called “morning-after pill” and even standard birth control on the basis that it violates their religious and moral consciences. Groups like Pharmacists for Life claim on their Website that both forms of contraception constitute a “chemical abortion” and are, in the opinion of the organization, tantamount to murder.

Pharmacists who are adamantly opposed to filling such prescriptions explain that birth control does not entirely prevent ovulation, but merely impedes the implantation of an egg in the uterine wall. This leads, in theory, to the possibility that an egg might be released and fertilized, but never be able to grow due to the hormonal effects of birth control.

While many state legislatures are engaged in heated debates over whether a pharmacist’s right to refuse certain prescriptions should be legally enshrined, women in America are being hung out to dry. The debate over contraceptive distribution is wholly absurd. It almost boggles the mind that state legislatures would be wasting their time discussing this issue while the vast majority of Americans are more worried about the price of oil, the state of the economy and the situation in Iraq.

Religious and moral convictions have always been a part of politics and economics; that’s not going to change anytime soon, nor should it. However, letting those convictions spill over into legislation and policy attacks the pluralistic heart of our Constitution and threatens the rights of all.

Every job carries certain demands with it, and most people understand those demands before they pick their careers. A Christian pacifist probably shouldn’t be a police officer, seeing that their job could require them to use aggressive force. Similarly, a devout Hindu probably shouldn’t be a McDonald’s employee, since they would be required to serve cow meat (Cows are holy to Hindus) to customers. To put it simply, by imposing their own morals on customers, these pharmacists are rebelling against a part of their job they know they have to perform. Exceptions cannot and should not be made for the specific religious beliefs of every employee, regardless of a “moral majority.”

In the end, the most troubling aspect of this situation is the effect that a refusal of such vital and important medication is having on women nationwide.

It’s deplorable to read stories about women not only being refused their medication, but also lectured and denied the return of their prescription. “The sad thing is that a very small and very loud minority is trying to thwart women from getting their basic health care needs," said Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center.

Still, that small and vocal minority has convinced some states, such as Arizona, to include a “conscience clause” in their legislation that would permit pharmacists to refuse any form of birth control on the basis of personal belief. Pharmacist Pitt Philips from North Carolina defends the position to deny the medication, stating, “While they have the right to obtain the prescription, as an individual I always have my own rights not to fill it.”

Yes, pharmacists have the right not to fill prescriptions, but an employer should also have the right to fire them for not doing so. Certain professions are integral to the fabric of our society, and pharmacist happens to be one of them.

Being able to access the medication that we need without incident should be the right of every American, even if certain religious beliefs are offended in the process.

Staff writer Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in English and history.

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