Pharmacists' Rights at Front Of New Debate
Because of Beliefs, Some Refuse To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page A01
Some pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs.
The trend has opened a new front in the nation's battle over reproductive rights, sparking an intense debate over the competing rights of pharmacists to refuse to participate in something they consider repugnant and a woman's right to get medications her doctor has prescribed. It has also triggered pitched political battles in statehouses across the nation as politicians seek to pass laws either to protect pharmacists from being penalized -- or force them to carry out their duties.
Hmm. I suppose the Adam Smith approach to this problem would be to allow The Genius of the Market to punish pharmacists who withhold prescribed medications, and reward the dutiful ones. I'm not holding my breath, however. Just as it's never as simple as "if you don't like the wage you're earning, get a different job," it's also never as simple as "if Pharmacy A won't sell you a birth-control pill, take your custom to Pharmacy B."
This could get Ugly Indeed: Suppose there is no Pharmacy B? Or suppose Pharmacist B feels enjoined, based on local mores, to enter into competition with refusenik Pharmacy A: "Shop here! My moral indignation is twice as pure as Pharmacy A's! I'll only sell birth control pills to your husband, and then only if he produces a marriage certificate!"
At that point, I suppose, Pharmacy C enters the fray and puts up a sign: "Moral relativists! Shop here! Birth control available, NQA!"
At this point, the Genius of the Market has polarized us further, which is not what the Rah-Rah Boys down at the Academy have led us to expect. Free-market theory works well enough on paper, but when wacky, unpredictable ol' Humanity rears its self-righteous little head, pretty theories go right out the window.