Defending freedom of conscience on emergency contraception

CMF Blogs
Reproduced with permission

Philippa Taylor*

The UK’s biggest abortion provider, British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), has attacked pharmacists who do not sell the ‘morning-after pill’ for conscience reasons. 

After one incident when a pharmacist would not dispense emergency contraception to a woman for ‘personal’ reasons, BPAS condemned both the pharmacist and the conscience protections provided to pharmacists. A petition was set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming freedom of conscience rights. 

Under the current law, covered by guidance from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), pharmacists with a genuine conscientious objection to selling the pill may refer the customer to another pharmacist.

However, BPAS complained that it is ‘impossible to overstate the significance of even one pharmacist conscientiously objecting to selling the morning-after pill’. 

Fortunately, the General Pharmaceutical Council, in this case, upheld its guidelines and the consequent media coverage has now died down, temporarily at least.

This may seem like a one-off minor incident, but it is an illustration of increasing pressures on freedom of conscience protections. It is often assumed that the role of the conscience in medicine is relevant only to a few specialised and limited areas such as contraception or abortion, but in fact, the concept of the conscience goes right to the heart of what it means to act in a moral way, to act with integrity.

If we do not stand by those who are under pressure, the problems will only get worse and will spread. A well-known quote, often attibuted to Burke though it may have come originally from J S Mill, warns: ‘He should not be lulled to repose by the delusion that he does no harm who takes no part in public affairs. He should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing.’

The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) has therefore written to the General Pharmaceutical Council to ensure they are aware of our concerns and to thank them for holding to their guidance. The text of our letter is as follows, with their response after it:

‘I am writing to you following the recent news coverage of a Lloyds pharmacy worker who, according to news reports, conscientiously objected to selling the morning-after pill and directed a customer to another pharmacy instead. I note that a petition has since been set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming conscientious objection rights.

‘The Christian Medical Fellowship is the UK’s largest faith-based group of health professionals and we contributed with both written and oral evidence to your review of your Guidance on Religion, Personal Values and Beliefs. We publicly welcomed the new Guidance and the statement accompanying it, in which the Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council highlighted the positive contribution that pharmacists’ faith can make in their provision of care. We also welcomed the clear statement that: “Pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs”.

‘We all aspire to person-centred care. In any care scenario, there are (at least) two parties – the carer and the one receiving care – each of whom has rights. The General Pharmaceutical Council guidance helpfully achieves a balance between the patient’s right to service access and the pharmacist’s right to freedom of conscience.

Respect for the sincerely held religious and moral beliefs of employees is essential and we are concerned that some of the demands being made, based on this one recent case, would marginalise the beliefs, values and religion of pharmacists disproportionately and unnecessarily, and trivialise their right to freedom of conscience under the law. Despite widespread coverage of this case, we have yet to see evidence of recurring complaints under the present provisions.

‘While we strongly support the right to freedom of conscience for pharmacists, we do also emphasise the importance of openness and sensitive communication with colleagues and employers; any refusal to supply should be made courteously and sensitively.

‘On behalf of CMF, I want to thank the Council for protecting the right of pharmacists to refuse to engage in certain procedures that violate their most profound moral convictions.

‘I also encourage the Council to continue to make it clear, publicly, that all pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs.

Yours faithfully

Dr Mark Pickering
Chief Executive, CMF

The General Pharmaceutical Council replied with the following two sentences:

‘Our existing guidance In practice: Guidance on religion, personal values and beliefs (to which you refer) remains in place. We have no current plans to review it. As you are aware, the guidance sits under our standards for pharmacy professionals and relates to standard 1, Pharmacy professionals must provide person-centred care.’

The point here is simple but vital: if we care about liberty and personal integrity, we must make a reasoned defence of it in the public square, from the smallest incident to the biggest.

Pharmacist refused to give morning after pill on a Sunday ‘for personal reasons’

Metro

Martine Berg Olsen

A mum was told she couldn’t have emergency contraception because it went against the beliefs of the only pharmacist working that Sunday.

Siani, 41, visited her local LloydsPharmacy at Sainsbury’s on Lewes Road, Brighton, when a female member of staff refused to give her the morning after pill for ‘personal reasons’.

Knowing that there are not many pharmacies open on a Sunday, Siani ordered the contraception online and paid upfront for collection. . . [Full text]

Pharmacists in ‘conscientious objection’ to morning-after pill

Some are refusing to sell emergency contraception

Times of Malta

Claire Caruana

A number of individual pharmacists are refusing to dispense the morning-after pill on moral grounds, it has emerged, even though the emergency contraceptive is stocked in the pharmacies where they work.

The pharmacists are either directing customers to other pharmacies where they will not have a problem purchasing the pill or else telling them to return to the same pharmacy another time when another “sympathetic” pharmacist will be on duty.

Malta Chamber of Pharmacists president Mary Ann Sant Fournier told The Sunday Times of Malta that like other independent healthcare professionals, pharmacists “have a right to conscientious objection”. . .[Full text]

 

Conscientious objectors – ‘Pharmacists have right to refuse to sell the MAP’

Authority set to issue guidelines

Times of Malta

Claire Caruana

As “independent healthcare professionals”, pharmacists had every right to refuse to sell the morning-after pill if it went against their moral beliefs, Malta Chamber of Pharmacists president Mary Ann Sant Fournier said yesterday.

Ms Sant Fournier’s comments came in the wake of a decision by the Medicines Authority that the contraceptive could be sold over the counter.

“One must emphasise the status that pharmacists enjoy as independent healthcare professionals and their right to conscientious objection should be upheld at all times,” Ms Sant Fournier said when contacted. . . [Full text]

Here’s What Actually Happens When You Fight for Conscience Rights

A family places its trust in God as it battles Washington state for the right to run their pharmacy and grocery store in line with Catholic teachings.

National Catholic Register

Loredana Vuoto

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Every morning, Greg Stormans contemplates a Bible verse perched in a tiny frame above his bathroom sink, which his daughter handwrote: “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

This verse sets the tone for his entire day and life.

“When I first heard this verse, even at a young age, it had an impact on me. It really changed my life and how I view it,” Stormans, one of the owners of Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympiatold CNA.

“Every day when I get up, I remember that the Lord has made it and that I should be happy and grateful. You have to share this and be happy, knowing that God has given you a purpose in life.”

Stormans and his family, who have been operating the small grocery story and pharmacy for the past four generations, had no idea they would be at the center of a firestorm in 2007, when the Washington Pharmacy Commission began to require pharmacies to dispense the potentially abortion-inducing drugs Plan B and ella, and make conscience-based referrals illegal.

Devout Catholics, the Stormans decided that they could not sell abortion-related drugs, because it was against their deepest convictions to sell drugs that “promote death.” . . . [Full text]

 

Doctors who oppose morning-after pill on conscience grounds face qualifications bar

Guidelines confirm that doctors and nurses who oppose controversial emergency contraception on ‘moral or religious’ grounds cannot receive key specialist qualifications

The Telegraph

John Bingham

Doctors and nurses who object to providing controversial emergency contraception on moral or religious grounds are being barred from specialist professional qualifications under official guidelines.

They class Roman Catholics and others motivated by pro-life beliefs as “ineligible” for important qualifications provided by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) even if they complete the training programme.

It led to accusations that the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, a branch of the RCOG, is unfairly discriminating against medical staff who act on grounds of conscience. [Full Text]

RCOG faculty bars prolife doctors from receiving its degrees and diplomas

 Dr. Peter Saunders*

Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to new guidelines.

Under new rules issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) earlier this year these doctors and nurses are also to be barred from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

The FSRH is a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists established on the 26th March 1993 as the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. In 2007 it changed its name to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. [Full Text]

 

Now Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is not radical enough to work at Rite Aid

 

Freedom2Care.org

Jonathan Imbody*

Tolerance. Diversity. Broad-mindedness. Those are the words.

Bullying. Discriminating. Compelling. Those are the deeds.

The contradictory words and deeds often come from one and the same individuals–and in a case I learned about today, companies. Turns out the words of tolerance, diversity and broad-mindedness only apply to those who comply with the dogma and submit to the will of the speakers.

Here’s an email I received this morning from a pharmacist member of the Christian Medical Association:

“Subject: Forced to resign over mandate to sell the morning after pill.

“Just to let you know that Rite-Aid corporation came out with a stricter policy on July 5, 2013 that requires all employees to accommodate the sale of the morning-after pill to all comers, of either gender and of any age.  I tendered my resignation within the hour, it was accepted, and my last work day is July 20th.  I realize that I am an ‘at will’ employee and I do not expect any recourse. Just for your information to add me to the list of those quitting pharmacy solely because of the policy change.  Keep up the good work. The battle rages.  The Lord is able to supply our needs.”

Remember that even the Obama administration health department opposed the unlimited sale of the morning-after pill, citing health concerns. So presumably, even the radically pro-abortion Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, is not radical enough to work at Rite Aid.

Unfortunately, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama trashed the only federal regulation protecting health care professionals from discrimination and firings for reasons of conscience. They and other abortion advocates also can’t seem to muster enough liberality to support the tolerant, diversity-respecting and broad-minded principles of the Healthcare Conscience Rights Act (S 1204 and HR 940).

While the regulation and the law apply specifically to government-funded programs, each can help establish an environment of true respect for conscience, tolerance and diversity that will protect health care professionals nationwide. Until then, pharmacists, obstetricians and family docs who still adhere to the Hippocratic oath and faith tenets remain subject to job loss, discrimination and ostracism for their life-affirming views.

Jonathan Imbody
Vice President for Government Relations,
Christian Medical Association 
CMA Washington office: P.O. Box 16351 • Washington, DC 20041
703-723-8688 (office) • 703-434-9794 (mobile)
Director, Freedom2Care – 50 groups and 29,000 individuals advancing conscience rights

Conscience Legislation, the Personhood Movement, and Access to Emergency Contraception

4 Faulkner Law Review  411 (2013)

Jonathon F. Will

Introduction:  In the medical setting, conscience legislation serves to protect health care professionals who refuse to provide certain procedures or services that would violate their consciences.  The “Personhood Movement,” on the other hand, is characterized by advocates’ attempts to adopt legislation or constitutional amendments at the state and/or federal level that would extend the legal and moral protection associated with personhood to members of the human species at the earliest stages of biological development.  The relationship between conscience legislation and the Personhood Movement may not be self-evident, but the connection becomes apparent when considering trends in conscience legislation.  This is particularly true in the context of expanding legal protection to health care professionals who object to certain forms of birth control, such as emergency contraception (EC). [Full Text]

Christian medical practice resented in London

Links Medical Practice in Mottingham, south London, includes some physicians unwilling to prescribe the morning-after pill for reasons of conscience, and has posted a notice so that customers can seek the drug elsewhere.  An anonymous patient reported the practice to the media because she was “outraged” at the ‘religious influence’ on medical practice, and plans to find another physician.  The Family Planning Association has encouraged other women to leave the practice.  [The Independent]