The governor of the US state of Illinois has used emergency powers to force a pharmacy to sell contraceptives. The state government will also charge it with “failure to provide pharmaceutical care” and “unprofessional conduct” after a pharmacist declined to dispense contraceptives to two women in February. “The pharmacy is not allowed to discriminate who they sell it to and who they don’t,” said Governor Rod Blagojevich. “No delays. No hassles. No lectures. Just fill the prescription.”
The incident highlights the increasing number of American pharmacists who are refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives or the morning-after pill because it violates their moral or religious beliefs. Many claim the pill is abortifacient. Often refusal is a risky stand, especially if they refuse to refer a customer elsewhere, as sometimes happens. Only four states currently have “conscience clauses” for pharmacists. Another four states, on the other hand, are considering bills which would require them to fill all prescriptions.
Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life International, denounced Blagojevich’s order as “crazy”. An outspoken supporter of conscience clauses, she also endorses refusal to refer. “That’s like saying, ‘I don’t kill people myself but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does,'” she says. On the other side of the fence are pro-choice activists. They claim that “refusniks” humiliate women and trample on their rights. “It’s outrageous; it’s sex discrimination; it prevents access to a basic form of health care for women; we’re going back in time,” say Rachel Laser, of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington.
Doctors are on safer ground. Of the 50 US states, 47 allow them to opt out of abortions or sterilisations. Some states are considering expanding the list of exempted procedures to include refusal to follow advance directives for end-of-life care, to assist a suicide, to conduct embryonic stem cell research or to use future treatments derived from it.
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