February 27, 2024

Conscientious objectors under the gun

Pharmacists who refuse to fill legal prescriptions for contraceptives are coming under fire in the US media. The widely- read Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote that “What pharmacists and others are asking for is conscience without consequence. The plea to protect their conscience is a thinly veiled ploy for conquest… the drugstore is not an altar. The last time I looked, the pharmacist’s licence did not include the right to dispense morality.” The Philadelphia Daily News agreed and editorialised that Pennsylvania should join four other states in passing a law to compel pharmacies to fill prescriptions or to refer them to someone who will.

A feminist law lecturer and bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, Anita Allen, has expressed her alarm at the growing numbers of pharmacists who insist on putting their conscience before their business. “Conscience clauses” which allow this are a dangerous precedent. “If you open the door to this, I don’t see any place to draw a line,” she said in Goodman’s column. What’s next, asks Goodman: Ritalin? Viagra?