Plan to Ensure Pill Access Worrying Pro-Life Pharmacists
Pro-life pharmacists have a new challenge ahead of them, as new FDA
rules require pharmacists to sell Plan B over the counter.
National Catholic Register,
17-23 September, 2006
Reproduced with permission
Robert Muise, an attorney with Thomas More Law
Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. . . .argues that where a need for accessibility
tries to trump conscience, it has little to do with access and everything to
do with forcing an agenda on people of faith.
POWELL, OHIO - The Food and Drug Administration's Aug. 24 announcement
that it will allow over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive
Plan B was another blow to pro-life pharmacists.
The FDA decision means that by year's end, women can purchase the drug
directly without a prescription as long as they can prove to a pharmacist
they are 18 years of age or older. Younger teens still need prescriptions.
That presents a dilemma for pharmacists of conscience, said Karen Brauer,
president of Ohio-based Pharmacists for Life International. She said that
Plan B "is not an extremely effective means of birth control" but is mainly
effective in "killing the early human embryo prior to implantation."
Even Barr Pharmaceuticals, the New Jersey-based company that manufactures
the drug, admitted that Plan B can be an abortifacient.
"Plan B may also work by preventing (the newly fertilized egg, or embryo)
from attaching to the uterus (womb)," it says on its website (http://www.go2planb.com)."
Brauer noted that refusing to dispense Plan B "can cause a pharmacist to
be fired." She pointed out that "dispensing the 'morning-after' pill is
under government coercion inIllinois, and the New York Civil Liberties Union
is seeking punishment for pharmacists whose clinical judgment was that
emergency treatment with large doses of hormones should not have refills."
Nine states - Washington, California, New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine,
New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont - already allow women of any age to
buy Plan B without a doctor's prescription from certain pharmacies. Jodie
Wagner, a pharmacist working inSpokane, Wash., left retail pharmaceuticals
to work in a clinical setting.
"The fear is not so much in losing one's job but in losing one's license
to practice," she said.
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has been actively involved in applying
pressure to the state's pharmacy board to reject the Washington State
Pharmacy Association's draft of a conscience clause. She has made it clear
that she objects to patients being denied drugs on the basis of pharmacists'
"personal objections or biases."
Oregon's Board of Pharmacy has faced a similar dispute on the issue of
conscience vs. accessibility. A new policy approved in June requires a
pharmacist who refuses to fill prescriptions to assist a patient in finding
a pharmacist who will dispense the drug, even if that assistance violates
his conscience. Refusing to do so will leave an accusation of
"unprofessional behavior" on the pharmacist's record.
Oregon's pharmacy board declared that "Oregon pharmacists cannot
interfere with a patient's lawfully and appropriately prescribed drug
Although federal and state constitutions protect a right of conscience
for all citizens, it has become increasingly apparent that such protections
are being ignored.
Robert Muise, an attorney with Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor,
Mich., said his organization is working on a number of such cases. He said
that "this is one of the most important areas in the law presently.
"We are trying to breathe life back into the Free Exercise Clause" of the
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, protecting religious belief, he
Cases have arisen concerning everything from Boy Scout troops penalized
for restricting membership, to Catholic agencies refusing adoption services
to homosexual couples, to health care providers not wishing to perform
abortions or physician-assisted suicides. The list of cases keeps growing.
Muise argues that where a need for accessibility tries to trump
conscience, it has little to do with access and everything to do with
forcing an agenda on people of faith.
So what can the pharmacists do? Kirsten Waggoner, an attorney
specializing in such issues with the law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry in
Seattle, suggests that in the case of the Washington Association of
Pharmacists, there is still time to act. The final vote won't come until
January 2007. "So, they need to stand up and be firm" in demanding a
conscience clause, she urged.
Support for pharmacists' rights of conscience in Washington generated
more than 14,000 letters to the pharmacy board, with help from parishes and
There are also legal and legislative actions that can help keep the issue
of a neglected right of conscience before the public, Muise said.
Pharmacists for Life will help in finding legal assistance for
pharmacists facing disciplinary actions. Brauer stated that "pharmacists
need to be able to afford to use civil law protections. But this is
expensive and out of reach of most unemployed health professionals, though a
number of agencies are offering help."
Brauer insisted that all is not hopeless.
She stated, "The lawsuits in Illinois are proceeding in a positive
direction, with the pharmacists' right to a hearing being affirmed by the
U.S.district court judge inSpringfield."