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Prescription for Conflict

Pharmacists may have to put conscience on the shelf—or quit.
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

A battle for the soul of pharmacy has begun. Abortion-rights supporters claim that over the last six months, an average of one pharmacist per day has refused to fill a prescription—usually for contraceptives or abortifacients—for reasons of religion or conscience.

In response, the words of some who support a woman's "right to choose" are getting nasty. Or maybe just silly.

• "If state-licensed health-care workers can impose their religious views on Americans who do not share them, what is the difference between the United States and the Iranian theocracy?" asks Bonnie Erbe of Scripps Howard News Service. "Even differences between us and the Taliban begin to wear tenuously thin."

• Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, dismissing claims that pharmacists are covered under the state's Health Care Right of Conscience law, issued an emergency regulation in April requiring pharmacies to fill such prescriptions, snapping, "No delays. No hassles. No lectures." Penalties for noncompliance in Illinois range from a fine to revocation of a pharmacy's right to dispense drugs.

Keep in mind that the 217,000 pharmacists in the United States (more than half of them women) do more than simply fill prescriptions. Extensively trained, pharmacists are true medical professionals who offer customers valuable insights on dosages, disease, and drug interactions.

Yet some would turn these professionals into mere dispensers of medication through the innocuously named Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act. The bill would require the pharmacist, regardless of conscience, to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. Francis Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice says the legislation, in effect, treats the right to contraception ...

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