Posted by: bridget | 9 August 2007

Illinois Judge Allows Pharmacists to Refuse to Dispense Plan B

A federal judge in Illinois ruled against Wal-Mart and Walgreens; the stores had disciplined pharmacists who refused to supply patients with emergency contraception. Gov. Blagojevich issued an executive order which required pharmacists to supply emergency contraception to their patients, regardless of religious or moral issues. (Pro-life advocates are attempting to overturn that rule.) Adding some fuel to the fire, the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act allows pharmacists to not to dispense aborficants:

“…It is public policy of the State of Illinois to respect and protect the right of conscience of all persons who refuse to obtain, receive or accept, or who are engaged in, the delivery of, arrangement for, or payment of health care services and medical care whether acting individually, corporately, or in association with other persons….” [emphasis added]

Wal-Mart claimed that pharmacists are not covered under the Right of Conscience law. Such is ridiculous, given the plain text of law; however, Wal-Mart could have been subject to liability had it not followed the Governor’s executive order. Usually, when two laws conflict, the one that is passed later is deemed to have superseded the former, so Wal-Mart may have a point here.

This all ignores the fact that a free market will remove the conflicts in question. Pharmacists who do not want to be party to an act which they consider murderous may work at companies that do not stock Plan B, or, if they do, those which permit but do not require their employees to dispense it. Pharmacies that wish to make Plan B readily available may stock it and only hire pharmacists who agree to dispense it; any refusal on the part of the pharmacist would then be an employment law or contracts issue, not a moral issue. Presumably, any woman old enough to need Plan B is also old enough to use a telephone and enquire about the policy of a pharmacy before she goes there, much as one would enquire about the hours before showing up at 11 pm.

Disclosure: the pachyderm is quite ambivalent about Plan B. She understands that it does not change the abortion rate, even when dispensed for free, which really undermines the best argument for its use. Nevertheless, she does sympathise with rape victims and would prefer them to use a drug that works primarily by preventing ovulation (and an ultrasound can determine whether or not she has ovulated), rather than aborting. Furthermore, she believes that the drug is more likely to work by preventing implantation if the woman has waited a long time to take it; thus, measures which cause a woman to delay its use actually cause the harm they are intended to prevent. As a final thought, she is patently against the idea that pharmacists may refuse to dispense birth control (as doctors prescribe it for conditions ranging from endometriosis to PCO to dysmenorrhea); their job is not to act as a secondary physician.

She really follows Tieki Rae’s position on the whole matter: if the Leftists weren’t such murderous idiots, we wouldn’t have to talk about strategy and compromise.



  1. RE: your final thought. A good point that I had not thought about, I guess I am too old to remember those things. I tend to be against requiring anybody to do anything without a really good reason.

    On the other hand a customer would have every reason to be insulted by the refusal of a pharmacist to dispense these drugs.

  2. SST,

    Likewise, I’m not really for forcing people to do anything. However, part of a pharmacist’s job description is to dispense drugs when a patient comes in with a prescription. Now, if the patient is prone to blood clots, the pharmacist should not give her birth control, which can lead to a very dangerous situation. However, I don’t think it’s his job to deny, as a matter of principle, the drug, especially if it is prescribed “off-label.”

    When I was in high school, a lot of my female friends were on the Pill – and were virgins. Many of them had horrible cramps; some would vomit every month and have to miss school; some had very heavy periods; and some had acne that was cleared up with the Pill. A doctor put me on it once to try to diagnose an abdominal pain issue; the idea was that, by stopping ovulation, we could figure out whether or not ovulation was causing the pain.

    That’s the long version. The short version is that I have very little (read: no) patience for pharmacists who presume to know why this drug is being prescribed and who take moral objection to it. After all, it’s not as if the pharmacist has any moral duty towards others that is implicated here – this is not RU-486, where he has a moral duty to not be a party to murder.

  3. It’s a sad day when a pharmacist gets to decide your physical fate!!!! Isn’t their job to dispense medicine? Last time I checked, if I didn’t do my job, I was FIRED!!!!

    If they don’t like the job, get another one! Stop enforcing your beliefs on my body!!!!

  4. Suzan,

    Well, the answer to your rhetorical question is “sometimes.” From there, it’s all downhill for you.

    Regarding the “your body” issue: babe, if it’s only your body at issue, you’re not pregnant and will not be pregnant in the near future.

    A few questions: It is the job of psychiatrists to keep confidences. Do you think that a psychiatrist is “not lik[ing his] job” if he were to tell a person that his patient is about to go on a murderous rampage?

    Would a pharmacist not be doing his job if he denies you medication which can kill you? Would he not be doing his job if he denies non-necessary medication to a pregnant woman when it would cause severe fetal deformities? Is he not doing his job if he refuses to dispense medication to a person who has multiple suspicious prescriptions for an addictive drug?

    If the answer to those is “hey, wait, that’s part of his job, too!”, then maybe you ought to reconsider your blanket statement about the job of pharmacists. It is NOT the job of pharmacists to robotically dispense pills; it is their job to dispense medication that advances the health of the patient and that does not bring harm to another person.

    Arguably, Plan B fails that test.

    If you don’t like it, find another pharmacist. You, however, have no legal claim to force private parties to “do their jobs.” You cannot sue the bartender who refuses to serve you booze when you are intoxicated; only the restaurant owner or the state licensing agency has the power to compel punishment.

    Again – with the “your body” thing – honey, it isn’t all about your body. Once sperm hits egg, there is another body involved. Don’t like it? Don’t have sex when you aren’t ready to get pregnant.

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