Hearing: Freedom of Conscience for Small Pharmacies
House Small Business Committee
Washington, D.C. 25 July, 2005
Opening Statement of Chairman Manzullo
The subject before this Committee today deals with
the negative impact on small pharmacies that operate under the strict law
that requires pharmacists to fill all prescriptions – even if doing so
violates their moral and professional beliefs. I also want to discuss
alternatives that will ensure that women who want a certain prescription
have access to it, while preserving the integrity of the pharmacist.
Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome everyone to today’s Small
Business Committee hearing on the impact that “duty-to-fill” laws have on
The subject before this Committee today deals with the negative impact on
small pharmacies that operate under the strict law that requires pharmacists
to fill all prescriptions – even if doing so violates their moral and
professional beliefs. I also want to discuss alternatives that will ensure
that women who want a certain prescription have access to it, while
preserving the integrity of the pharmacist.
Many individuals become physicians, nurses, pharmacists, or other
healthcare workers based on a deeply-held conviction of service to others.
Each of these individuals has a developed sense of conscience based on
personal experience, individual ideology, religious beliefs, or cultural
The primary debate surrounding this issue relates to a pharmacist’s moral
opposition to filling prescriptions for emergency contraception, also known
as the “morning-after-pill.” On April 1, 2005, Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich issued an emergency rule that requires pharmacies in the state
that sell contraceptives to fill all prescriptions for FDA-approved
contraceptives “without delay.” That rule is currently before the Joint
Committee on Administrative Rules to determine whether it should become
permanent. Several pharmacists have filed lawsuits challenging the rule, and
one of those individuals is here today.
The right to refuse to participate in acts that conflict with an ethical
or religious conviction is accepted as an essential element of a free
society. But what happens when the government forces a business to violate
Many pharmacies in small communities may not have another pharmacist who
can simply fill the prescription for the pharmacist with a moral objection.
Nor can they easily transfer the prescription to another pharmacy nearby.
Under the Illinois rule and proposed federal legislation, such pharmacy
would be forced to order the product under their standard procedures for
ordering other out-of-stock drugs, even if it violates their personal
beliefs or professional standards.
This will not only violate the pharmacist’s conscience, but may also be
extremely costly for the business. Pharmacies do not stock every drug that
is currently on the market for economic reasons. This rule could become very
expensive for pharmacies that are forced to order the morning-after pill
when they otherwise would not have.
So what happens if a pharmacy owner refuses to fill a prescription
despite these new mandates? Many of the “duty-to-fill” requirements impose
stiff penalties on pharmacies who continue to allow their pharmacists to
exercise their conscience.
Pharmacies could be subject to fines or even suspension of their
licenses. If a pharmacy shuts down, especially in a small community, such as
Morrison, IL, and in many of the other rural areas I represent, other
businesses will also be affected. If people have to go to the next town to
pick up their prescriptions, they may fill up their gas tanks or buy
groceries, as well. The entire community is affected if a pharmacy is forced
to close its doors.
No one, least of all a health care provider, should be required to
violate his or her conscience by participating in procedures that he or she
deems harmful. The government should never force anyone to choose between
his business or beliefs.
The purpose of this hearing is to explore the impacts that extreme “duty
to fill” legislation will have on small pharmacies. I also hope to discuss
alternatives that will ensure that women have access to medicine while
preserving the beliefs of the pharmacist.
I look forward to the testimony of all of the witnesses this morning, and I
turn to my colleague, the Ranking Member for her opening statement.