Pharmacists and Religious Freedom
The other day a court case regarding the rights of pharmacists filling prescriptions that violated their religious beliefs was finally laid to rest. The Illinois law stated that pharmacists must fill prescriptions for “Plan B” otherwise known as the “morning after pill”. Several pharmacists sued the state stating that this law violated their religious conscience and First Amendment right to free exercise. They also argued, apparently successfully, I should add, that no one had been harmed by their refusal to fill these prescriptions in the past. This battle over this case had been occurring over the last seven years. On Monday, the Illinois Attorney General decided not to appeal the latest decision—meaning, the pharmacists won their case. They do not have to fill prescriptions for Plan B medications.
My initial response to this story was the same as the Governor who signed the law. At the time Gov. Blagojevich stated that pharmacists who do not want to fill these prescriptions should find a new line of work. A few days have passed…and I still feel the same way. The lawyers for the pharmacists, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, (a sham of an operation) stated that requiring these prescriptions be filled would violate the religious freedom of the pharmacists. This is absurd. The fact that this case ended in the way it did is a travesty of justice. It is my hope that some other group can pick up the torch and carry this case.
I have nothing against pharmacists. However, we need to put things in perspective. Pharmacists fill prescriptions. It is what they do. Doctors write prescriptions. It is what they do. Doctors have a great deal of training—in many areas from medicine to patient counseling. If through the course of a visit with a patient a Doctor feels that medicine X is what the patient needs, that should be the end of the story. A pharmacist has zero training in diagnosing or prescribing medications. Their job is to put pills in bottles and try to ensure that patients know how to take the medications and counsel them whenever medicines conflict with each other—which usually involves a phone call to the doctor. As far as I am concerned, no pharmacist on this planet has the right to tell a patient, “You don’t need this medication” or “I am not filling this medication” after it has been prescribed by a medical professional. Religion shouldn’t even enter this conversation…yet as is often the case, it rears its ugly head once again.
Filling a prescription does not in any way violate the free exercise of religion for a pharmacist. Forcing the pharmacist himself or herself to take a drug that violates their religion would be a violation of their religious freedom. Putting a pill in a bottle, on a doctor’s order, does no such thing.
In fact, one could argue that the patient is having her religious freedom violated. We could easily argue that the patient is now being subjected to the religious views of the pharmacist. I don’t know about you, but I do not feel that my pharmacist’s religious views has any place in my life.
The court case seemed to hinge on a few other aspects of legal absurdity. The Becket Fund argued that no one had been harmed by the refusal to fill Plan B. I certainly do not know enough to counter this claim, but it does raise some questions. What is considered harm in this case? Would we consider a woman becoming pregnant, against her wishes, who then either carries the baby to term or has an abortion harm? I would. I do not see how the pharmacists lawyers could possible argue that neither of these two scenarios did or could occur. In either case, the pharmacists actions could cause great harm.
Second, the Becket fund argued that there are other reasons why pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions. They argued that a religious exception should also be allowed. I am not an expert on pharmacy laws. After a little research I haven’t been able to come up with any reasons why a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription. I did learn that they function under independent licenses, and in cases where they have refused to fill a prescription (all the ones I saw were religious in nature) usually referred the patient to another pharmacy that would fill it.
These two objections are no less shaky than the religious exemption. In the first, harm is subjective at best. In the second, I don’t see why someone should have to drive out of their way to get a prescription simply because of a pharmacist’s religious beliefs…in essence it brings us back to the religious exemption problem. It’s a circular argument in many cases. In some cases, it could be more problematic. What if the objecting pharmacist is practicing in a rural area? Am I to drive an hour or more to get my prescription filled so as not to offend my pharmacist? How is that just?
This dovetails into the conversation about offense. Some Christians in the U.S. today are very quick to claim persecution. It is absurd. Christians are in no way persecuted in this country. Could a pharmacist be offended by having to fill a prescription for Plan B? Yes. The question is should we care? The answer is “no”. We do not have the right to not be offended. I am offended by things all the time…that’s life, and for many people, that’s work. A pharmacist is no different. As I stated earlier offending a pharmacist is not a violation of his/her religious freedom. Forcing him/her to take a medication that violates their religious belief would be. That is not what is happening here.
Lastly, where does this end? Does this now mean that pharmacists can refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, even though we know many women are on the medication for reasons other than to avoid pregnancy? How would that play out in rural areas? How does this tie into the debacle of First Amendment justice that is becoming the HHS mandate? No matter how much I think on this topic, I cannot seem to come to a different conclusion that this: The pharmacist’s religious views are taking precedence over the views of a patient and doctor. This is not religious freedom, but religious subjugation. It cannot and should not be tolerated.
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