On July 25, a U.S. House of Representatives committee held a hearing on whether pharmacies should be allowed to refuse to fill women’s prescriptions. Anti-choice Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a witness, who had been denied birth control and emergency contraception by her pharmacist, that she had no “right” to her prescriptions - she only believed she did. Anti-choice Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) told a witness whose prescription had also been rejected by a hostile pharmacist, that her “minor inconvenience” – that is, risking an unintended pregnancy – was nothing compared to the “conscience” of a pharmacist.
(This is the first in a series of entries about my impressions of the radical right and their positions on reproductive rights. I don't claim to offer any new and stunning insight on the issues at hand, but feel compelled to comment on them in my usual cranky fashion.)
On Birth Control:
When the radical right's opposition to Roe v Wade hinges on the presumption that life begins at conception, their efforts are unlikely to stop at simply overturning Roe. The ultimate goal, by logical extension, will be a ban of all hormonal birth control.
The argument is that hormonal birth control hinders the uterus lining from adequate development. In the event an egg is released and fertilized, it will be unable to implant properly. This "interruption" would qualify as a thwarting of conception, and fall, therefore, well within the parameters fundamentalists say envelops and justifies their opposition to Roe v Wade.
(Note: There is debate over whether or not the prevention of implantation is actually caused by hormonal birth control. Manufacturers claim is does, while scientists assert there's no evidence to support the claim, and that in reality, hormonal birth control suppresses ovulation. While it's a germane point to a discussion of drug efficacy, it isn't particularly relevant to those opposing its use, and therefore, is not terribly relevant to this, a principally political discussion).
While I wouldn't ordinarily ascribe a great deal of logical or philosophical consistency to the radical right, there are plenty in their numbers sharp enough to follow the path to which their position leads. After all, being as fond as they are of "moral absolutes", they can't reasonably argue that defeating conception in one instance is "an abomination", but is acceptable in another. Consequently, opposing abortion, while ratifying hormonal birth control, in the end, is the same kind of "moral relativism" the left is regularly derided for.
In support of this prediction, I invite you to look at the recent controversy regarding "conscious clauses" and the refusal of pharmacists to dispense birth control prescriptions. This is an issue that the radical right can easily rally behind, on the grounds that pharmacists shouldn't have to "surrender their beliefs" in the course of their employment. Yet the tactic is grotesquely short-sighted, and demonstrates how little the fire & brimstone crowd understands about hormonal birth control and why it's used.
"What's more, oral contraceptives aren't only used to prevent pregnancy. The Pill may cut the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 80 percent and is used by women at high genetic risk for this hard-to-detect and usually fatal cancer. "There are easily more than 20 noncontraceptive uses for the Pill in common practice," says Giovannina Anthony, MD, an attending physician of obstetrics and gynecology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "This drug saves women from surgery for gynecological conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, and severe bleeding and pain."
These noncontraceptive uses are nothing to scoff at. Anyone suggesting otherwise is, well, a moron.
"'The pill' does far more than prevent pregnancy. For years physicians have prescribed birth control pills to regulate heavy or irregular menstrual periods, to treat ovarian cysts, to decrease menstrual cramps or PMS, to increase appetite in underweight women and to reduce acne. We also know there are many other benefits to taking the pill. These include decreasing the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer decreasing the risk of osteoporosis."
Evidently, these uses are trivial to the radical right and like-minded pharmacists, and I expect they'll claim that the percentage of women engaging in noncontraceptive use is below statistically significant levels. However, given that some 12 million women are reported to be on the pill, I would take any such claim with a grain of salt. Should any of you find hard data on this, please share in your comments.
I suspect that one of the reasons we hear very little outcry from the general public regarding pharmacist refusals is little more than political correctness gone astray. We’re so indoctrinated now to avoid calling someone out on nonsense when it’s shrouded in religious beliefs that we look the other way in cases like these.
However, some simple logical questions must be asked of those defending the “rights” of these refusing pharmacists.
- If a person’s religious beliefs prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities of their chosen profession, should they not, instead, reconsider their vocational choice? We don’t see too many Buddhist pest exterminators, Hindu butchers, or Quakers in the military, do we? In the rare event there are, wouldn’t we consider them a bit ridiculous for standing unyieldingly on religious principle and refusing to perform their basic duties? After all, they knew perfectly well what their vocations would demand, but chose to deprioritize religious principles in favor of professional obligation anyway.
- If I were a pacifist, it would make little sense for me to work at a gun shop. Furthermore, I’d have a very difficult time justifying my refusal to sell guns to the shop owner, wouldn’t I? My insistence that I can still sell flak jackets and canteens would do little to prove how useful I could be with “anything but guns”. Undoubtedly, his first question would be “Why the hell did you apply for a job HERE?!?”, and the shop owner’s befuddlement would certainly be justified.
- Should a pharmacist’s religious convictions be so strong, why wouldn’t they surface during the exhaustive training required for state certification? And if they do, what does he say to himself, “I’ll deal with that later”? At best, this is a childish evasion of inevitability and one that speaks to a fairly myopic view of his future career.
The arrogance of pharmacists that refuse to honor birth control prescriptions is a breach of professional etiquette and ethics, and simply a repugnant thing to do as a human being supposedly in the business of caring for others.
It is, however, what the radical right would love to see increasing number of health providers do, and as such, they will continue to support “conscience clauses” with glee. I won't be the least bit surprised when they use the refusals of pharmacists as leverage to pressure doctors and nurses to refrain from prescribing altogether. When health care providers yield to this pressure (at the risk of losing business), the radical right will add the capitulation to their legislative arsenal and make their demands of Congress: