Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

Tell Us Your Thoughts: Should Pharmacists Be Allowed to Refuse Dispensing Birth Control Pills on Moral Grounds

The United States of America. You can shout out your thoughts freely to anyone who will listen, write a letter to the government expressing your opinions about fast food, the school system, health care -- just about anything -- but you may not be able to get your birth control pill from your corner drugstore. Not if the pharmacist there has moral or religious objections to it.

Pharmacists in at least 12 states, including California, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina, have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control pills or emergency contraception like the Plan B or "morning-after" pill, in some cases causing women to miss pills or the time-sensitive window in which the Plan B pill is most effective.

Tiny pills at the heart of a
major controversy.

Says Steven H. Aden of the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom in Annandale, which defends the pharmacists:

"This is a very big issue that's just beginning to surface. More and more pharmacists are becoming aware of their right to conscientiously refuse to pass objectionable medications across the counter. We are on the very front edge of a wave that's going to break not too far down the line."

"Just Fill the Prescription"

When a pharmacist near Fort Worth, Texas refused to fill a birth control prescription because she didn't believe in it, the customer, 33-year-old Lacey, was not able to get her pills until the next day, and missed taking one.

"I was shocked," said Lacey. "Their job is not to regulate what people take or do. It's just to fill the prescription that was ordered by my physician."

Still, some pharmacists feel it's their right not to give out drugs that go against their moral beliefs, regardless of whether or not the patient has a prescription.

"There are pharmacists who will only give birth control pills to a woman if she's married. There are pharmacists who mistakenly believe contraception is a form of abortion and refuse to prescribe it to anyone," said Adam Sonfield of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which follows reproductive issues. "There are even cases of pharmacists holding prescriptions hostage, where they won't even transfer it to another pharmacy when time is of the essence."

Along with refusing to fill prescriptions (and even give them back to the patient to take elsewhere, in some cases), some women have also received lectures from the pharmacists.

"I shouldn't, as a mom, if I'm driving into my drive-through pharmacy, have to get into a moral debate with my pharmacist on the way to picking up my kids over whether I should have my birth control pills prescription filled," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Right now, legislation varies from state to state, with some states giving pharmacists the right to refuse, and others requiring them to fill all prescriptions.

Illinois, for instance, was the first state in the nation to issue an emergency ruling requiring all the state's pharmacists to fill "morning-after" pill prescriptions, without delay, regardless of personal beliefs. The ruling came after a Jewel-Osco pharmacist in Chicago's Loop refused to fill two prescriptions for a "morning-after" pill.

"What's next?" asked Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL-Pro Choice America, "They're not going to give HIV and AIDS medication? Not going to give cholesterol medications because they think you should exercise a little bit more?"

Pharmacists Have Rights, Too

"We don't have a profession
of robots," says Susan
Winckler of the American
Pharmacists Association.

"I refuse to dispense a drug with a significant mechanism to stop human life," says Karen Brauer, who was fired in 1996 after refusing to refill a birth control prescription at a Kmart near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brauer is also the president of the 1,500-member Pharmacists for Life International. "Our group was founded with the idea of returning pharmacy to a healing-only profession. What's been going on is the use of medication to stop human life. That violates the ideal of the Hippocratic oath that medical practitioners should do no harm," she says.

The 50,000-member American Pharmacists Association maintains a policy that a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription for moral reasons, but they must have an alternative available for the patient to get the pills. Says Susan C. Winckler, the association's vice president for policy and communications:

"We don't have a profession of robots. We have a profession of humans. We have to acknowledge that individual pharmacists have individual beliefs. What we suggest is that they identify those situations ahead of time and have an alternative system set up so the patient has access to their therapy."

A Bill to Make Everyone Happy?

To curb this controversy that's disrupting increasing numbers of pharmacies and patients, Congress is now considering a bill, as of September 2005, that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription if another person at the same location could fill it.

The bill places the burden of filling the prescription on the store, rather than on the patient as is now sometimes the case.

If the bill is passed, pharmacies that violate the ruling could be fined up to $5,000 a day and face civil lawsuits from patients.

Please Let Us Know What YOU Think

Select answers will be published in the forthcoming issue of the e-newsletter!*

*NOTE: Your answer, or an excerpt thereof, may be published in a forthcoming issue of the e-newsletter and on the website. By submitting your answer you authorize this. Please include your name and your city state (or country) location to be included in the publication of select answers!

Recommended Reading

Want to Reduce PMS? Eat Some Cheese, Get Some Sun and Take These Other Steps

The Gender Income Gap: Are Women Really Making Less than Men for the Same Job?


Fox News August 4, 2005

Washington Post: Pharmacists' Rights at Front of New Debate

USA Today: Druggists Refuse to Give Out Pill

The Journal Editorial Report

Daily Illini Editorial: What's in a Job?

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This