Project Logo

Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude
Legal Commentary

Hearing: Freedom of Conscience for Small Pharmacies

House Small Business Committee
Washington, D.C. 25 July, 2005

Prepared Remarks of Mr. Luke Vander Bleek, R.Ph.
Pharmacist/President Fitzgerald and Eggleston Pharmacies

I object that any private business should be required by government to offer for sale any particular product or service. Additionally, I have strong professional and moral objections to this executive requirement being placed on my business.

Thank you Chairman Manzullo for the invitation to testify to the honorable members of this committee. I would also like to thank you, the members, in advance for the courtesy of your presence in receiving my testimony this morning.

On April 1, 2005, Governor Blagojevich, issued an emergency executive rule in the State of Illinois requiring community pharmacies licensed in Illinois, pursuant to a valid legal prescription, to procure and dispense all forms of contraceptives without delay. This order includes the requirement that pharmacies that offer birth control therapy for sale, to also offer emergency contraceptives for sale in the same manner.

I object that any private business should be required by government to offer for sale any particular product or service. Additionally, I have strong professional and moral objections to this executive requirement being placed on my business.

Professionally, as a pharmacist, I find the published scientific data concerning the actual mechanism of action of emergency contraceptives to be lacking. Therefore, I regard the use of these products by women who are potentially hosting a live human embryo to be unsafe. I find no published evidence for me to conclude that this therapy does not jeopardize a live human embryo.

Morally, I regard my involvement in therapies intended to terminate human life to be wrong. Additionally, I believe the Illinois Rights of Conscience Act grants me protection to operate my business as I have in the past

My Governor's order creates an environment in Illinois whereby a person holding deep moral convictions concerning the unborn cannot own and operate a licensed pharmacy.

This environment creates an issue for small business, especially small business in small rural underserved markets.

Many small communities are served by only one pharmacy, which is independently owned and operated. Other small communities are without and would benefit from the convenience and access of a pharmacy.

In an environment where government requires business to be conducted in an amoral manner, the opportunity for moral business owners diminishes, as does the access to services and the economic activity these entrepreneurs may provide.

Currently the governor's rule is temporary with plans to become permanent. It is my position that I will not own and operate pharmacies in Illinois in the event that this temporary emergency rule becomes permanent.

I do not have to tell this committee of the existence of only a finite number of investors that are able and willing to invest in underserved markets. What I am here to point out is that the business of pharmacy is not different in this way.

In 1997, following 5 years of active management, my wife, Joan, and I became the owners of Fitzgerald Pharmacy in the small town of Morrison, Illinois, population 4200. We work, live, and raise our family this beautiful Midwest town. At the time of our purchase, there existed two successful independently owned pharmacies in Morrison. In 2000, we purchased the other to grow our business and facilitate the retirement of the owner.

In 1998, Joan and I purchased a pharmacy from the Eggleston family, a retiring couple, in Sycamore, Illinois, population 9,500. This pharmacy business had been actively marketed for sale for nearly 3 years. As I now know, we were the only seriously interested buyers of this 38-year-old practice. Absent our interest the doors would have been closed forever.

In 2001, we opened a pharmacy in Prophetstown, Illinois. This town of 1,800 residents had been without a pharmacy for nearly 6 months. The previous pharmacy operator, finding no one to succeed him, liquidated his business. Joan and I made our final decision to invest and locate a pharmacy in Prophetstown in large part to the very active solicitation by the town's residents and its mayor.

In 2004, Joan, a young partner, and I opened a pharmacy in Genoa, Illinois. This town of 4,200 residents had been without a pharmacy for more than 8 years. Again, our decision to expand into Genoa was due in large part to local government making its case as to the unmet need for pharmacy services.

In every residential market, large and small, pharmacies are a vital part of the community. In small markets, pharmacies serve as anchor businesses creating opportunities for complimentary businesses. Indeed, when a resident of a small community must leave town to access a pharmacist and have a prescription filled, the resident also purchases goods and services from other vendors in the neighboring community satisfying many consumer needs. This causes the businesses located in the resident's community to suffer and eventually close. This deepens the demise of Main Street all across the country.

Pharmacists are the most accessible health care practitioners. It is commonplace for citizens to seek and receive free counsel from these primary care community pharmacists in all 50 states. Pharmacists, like other professionals, carry with them their professional judgment. Science, education, law, ethics, and morality act as a guide. Patients benefit from their guidance.

Limiting the number of pharmacy owners to only those willing to operate in an amoral environment, clearly puts pressure on underserved markets in the U.S.

Joan and I, the parents of four school age daughters, have already decided that we will not continue to pursue ownership in pharmacies in Illinois in an environment where pharmacy licensure requires us to stock and dispense products we believe to be harmful to human life. I have spent my entire profession in pharmacy committed to easing suffering, curing and diagnosing disease, and improving the quality of human life. Though it has required significant sacrifice of time and effort, Joan and I have also enjoyed the opportunity to own and operate a small business in Illinois. Even so, we have resolved that we will not invest, and I will not practice in an environment, which we are legally obligated to be involved in the destruction of human life.

Print Friendly and PDF