Posted by: bridget | 23 August 2007

Sex, Drugs, and Rocking Head Scarves

The Washington Post reported that sales of Plan B have increased radically since the FDA approved the drug for over-the-counter sales to women. It did not mention whether abortions have decreased during the same time period. Given that the drug is available only by prescription to girls under the age of 18, there is a natural control group for such a study. In the UK, over-the-counter access to Plan B has not reduced the abortion rate.

It also mentioned that NARAL has pressured pharmacies into stocking the drug:

Overall, activists are pleased with the chains’ response, but they say women continue to encounter pharmacies which refuse to stock Plan B and individual employees who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to sell it.

There is no right – legally or morally – to have access to a pharmacy that sells every type of drug that one may wish to obtain, much as there is no requirement that every CVS stock one’s favoured brand of shampoo or antihistamine. Moreover, the focus on preventing pregnancy at all costs (including the religious freedom of pharmacists) is misplaced:

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” [Deirdre] McQuade said. “There is no absolute duty to dispense a non-therapeutic drug, but there is a basic civil right of conscience.”


In related news, Mitt Romney is being criticised for his seemingly changing stances on abortion. He stated that he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned and to let states make their own decisions; that he supports a human life amendment to the Constitution; and, during his tenure as the governor of Massachusetts, he refused to change the abortion laws of the state.

These statements are not necessarily contradictory. When Romney ran for governor, he held himself out as a pro-life candidate who recognised that his future constituency was pro-choice. The compromise was his promise to not change the abortion laws of Massachusetts, either by attempting to restrict them or by allowing for their expansion.

Likewise, Roe is bad law. If it were judicially overturned, the issue would revert back to each state (as is correct under the Ninth Amendment). Another pro-life alternative is to ratify the Constitution to provide for a human life amendment, which would nullify Roe. The issue is not whether one person can both hope for the overturn of Roe and desire a human life amendment, but the validity of incrementalism as a pro-life strategy.


Women who wear headscarves have a difficult time finding jobs in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Turkey’s “secular” laws prohibit women from wearing headscarves in public-sector jobs and universities. Roughly 60% of women cover their heads; it is not surprising that only 27% of women participate in the labour force.

The (obvious) issue of headscarves aside, there is no valid reason for a “secular” law to expressly discriminate against members of one religion; it is especially gruesome for such a regulation to effect only one gender. A secular law ought to allow citizens to practise religion to the extent that such practise does not interfere with the rights of other citizens; however, such laws should not be extended to the prohibition of certain religious practises, merely because they are religious in nature. Such a restriction is akin to prohibiting a public employee from wearing a cross pendant on a necklace or eating kosher food in the cafeteria.


Yet another San Francisco ban: bottled water in city departments. This does make more sense than banning, say, plastic bags or incandescent light bulbs, as bottled water is environmentally inefficient. Nearly half of it is purified tap water; the other 60% of water is transported from long distances. It takes roughly 18 million gallons of crude oil to create plastic water bottles that are used in in America every year.


Even the elderly lie about their sex lives. 84% of men reported having sexual contact in the past year, while only 62% of women reported the same. C’mon, people, you are all between the ages of 57 and 64; this is no time to be coy. One wonders about the NY Times publishing such a statistic a mere week after its assertion that similar disparities among younger people are the result of non-truths.



  1. hmm…curious as to why banning bottled water makes more sense than banning the other two items mentioned-plastic bags and incandescents-since all three are environmentally inefficient. and all three are so easy to replace (and for two of the three, Less Expensive to boot!)
    not sure how i feel about government mandates on these things, though that is how we got seatbelts put into cars….

  2. Nice roundup, Bridget. Glad you are back behind the keyboard!

  3. I favor Mitt Romney lately, and I feel that he is sincere when he says that he changed his mind and is now pro-life. Most everyone encounters at least one major life-changing event at some point. And I agree with Romney’s rebuttal to Brownback that the “I’m ‘holier-than-thou’ because I’ve been pro-life longer than you” attack really doesn’t negate Romney’s sincerety and his commitment to pro-life issues.

  4. When the stories of the pharmacists refusing to dispense Plan B first came up, I tended to side with the point you make, that they should have freedom of conscience.

    Then the stories came out about Muslim taxi drivers refusing to carry passengers carrying liquor, perhaps ultimately even refusing to carry female passengers too “provocatively” dressed.

    Try as I might, I can’t come up with a truly principled distinction which would allow us to permit the one and deny the other their religious freedom to choose whom to serve and for what reasons. I think we have to say that if you’re going to hold yourself out as serving the general public, your first loyalty needs to be to performing that service, not picking and choosing based on whatever your religious beliefs happen to be.

    Otherwise, we’ll have chaos: Let’s see… I can take the Muslim taxi to the grocery, but I’ll have to find an atheist, non-observant Jewish, or Christian taxi back, since I’m buying alcohol and some bacon. I need to stop at the Jewish pharmacy on 3rd. Wait, that one’s closed this week for Yom Kippur. I can’t stop at the Muslim pharmacy, because I need Nyquil, and Ahmed doesn’t carry it because of the alcohol content. I can’t go by the pharmacy on 4th because it’s owned by Tom Cruise’s company, and they don’t carry my Paxil. I could pop over to Agnes’ pharmacy over on 8th, but she doesn’t carry my birth control pills.

    See, once you allow the one exception, they expand and you must allow all those exceptions, and our society becomes extremely fragmented. When you choose to work out in the secular world, you need to comport yourself with the needs and demands of the secular world. That’s the glue that holds America together despite our many internal religious differences.

  5. bechirih,

    Thank you for stopping in! :)

    I’ve blogged about the incandescent light bulb issue before. The main problems with CFLs are that they contain mercury (approx. 2 mg, I believe). Now, if one of them breaks in your house, you have a mercury issue. If you throw them out (which most of the 37 million Californians would do), they will leach mercury into landfills. Now, mercury is used in the production of electricity at power plants; however, that mercury can be contained. It’s not in 20 million homes.

    Another problem with banning plastic bags and normal light bulbs is that the ban applies to everybody. Mayor Newsom is merely banning bottled water that is purchased by the city. People who live in San Fran can still purchase bottled water.

  6. Jay,

    That’s a good point. Generally, if people switch camps on the abortion issue, it is to become pro-life, not pro-choice.

  7. PatHMV,

    Oddly, when the stories first came out, I had the same reaction that you now have.

    As for pharmacies and stores not carrying Nyquil – don’t you think the free market will take care of that? People will take all of their shopping elsewhere (so they don’t have to make several stops); such a store will not last long.

    What parts of the Koran prohibit taxi drivers from consorting with women who are provactively dressed or people who are carrying alcohol? More specifically, what parts of the Koran allow a taxi driver to do the bulk of his job without going against his religious beliefs, but prohibit, say, taking on intoxicated persons as passengers?

    There is a reasonable argument that Plan B is not really therapeutic, as pregnancy (see above) is not a disease. There is also a reasonable argument that the pharmacist owes a general duty of care to all humans, and he should not be forced to give one person a drug that benefits her, but will harm (or could harm) another. If someone came in with a prescription for a drug that would be used to kill or harm another, most people would say (without hesitation) that the pharmacist should be allowed to refuse to dispense the drug; some people even would bring action against a pharmacist who filled the prescription. Should Plan B be any different?

    I will think more about this (and probably blog about it soon); ultimately, though, I think the answer will be very secular in nature. (Perhaps that is because I’m a pro-life atheist.) The exception is not truly religious in nature (although it would correlate heavily with Judeo-Christian philosophy), but is an extension of other lines of thought regarding the duties of a pharmacist or a person who serves the general public.

  8. “Otherwise, we’ll have chaos: Let’s see… I can take the Muslim taxi to the grocery, but I’ll have to find an atheist, non-observant Jewish, or Christian taxi back, since I’m buying alcohol and some bacon. I need to stop at the Jewish pharmacy on 3rd. Wait, that one’s closed this week for Yom Kippur. I can’t stop at the Muslim pharmacy, because I need Nyquil, and Ahmed doesn’t carry it because of the alcohol content. I can’t go by the pharmacy on 4th because it’s owned by Tom Cruise’s company, and they don’t carry my Paxil. I could pop over to Agnes’ pharmacy over on 8th, but she doesn’t carry my birth control pills.”

    That seems like an okay world to me, but it may depend on our faith in the free market in resolving these differences

    I would think that the more extreme a company is, the more likely a competitor can exploit that. For example, if Muslim cab drivers are selective who they drive around, then a cab company will pop up that is not so selective. We see that with vs. when it comes to dating services.

    Of course, this assumes that we have freedom of competition. There are many regulations that come about that hinder people going into business.

    In general, I would rather live in a world of inconvenience than one of coercion. Not that you see differently, it just sounded like a cool soundbyte.

  9. The thing is, it’s immaterial whether the Koran really prohibits Muslim taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol. Some self-proclaimed Muslims claim it does, and we don’t want government in the role of judging what the “real” tenets of particular religions are.

    I understand the argument that issues of life and death are different, and it’s probably the best argument to make. But I’m just not convinced by it. Not all cultures and faiths share that same value. Others are far more concerned with the spiritual world than the physical, so they place more concern over a soul being damned rather than a person living or dying. Even at the deepest levels, our values and theirs can be so very, very different.

    Chance, perhaps the free market would take care of it. Perhaps not. Both taxi drivers and pharmacists are licensed occupations in almost every state. With taxis, I think sometimes there’s even a government limit on who may have the license. Certainly in high-traffic areas like airports, having “alcohol-carrying” and “non-alcohol-carrying” lines would add to confusion and delays, as would changing up the queue when the next driver is an observant Muslim while the next passenger is a tipsy stripper with a bottle of booze hanging out of her purse. We have a long history in this country, and indeed in most every country, of regulating certain industries, like public transportation, inns/hotels, etc. Regulations requiring these common carriers to be mostly open to all are not new but date back even into the good ol’ free-for-all wild west.

  10. I am glad to see you back too. I assume that means you had a safe trip, and I hope it was a pleasant one.

    I am inclined to agree with Chance about the free market. Look at what regulation has done to public transportation. I think regulation should be used as sparingly as possbile and when in Doubt, err on the side of non-regulation.
    Realistically I know it is sometimes necessary, but it should be re-examined regularly to see if it is still necessary.

  11. Great to have you back Bridget!

    When you have some time check out this article…

    Keep Your Laws off my Doggie!

  12. TT – that’s a good one. I like.

    Pat – As a free-market type, I would err on the side of less regulation. What really gets me is that NARAL and the like are pushing for every pharmacy to carry this drug and for all pharmacists to dispense it on demand. That leaves no room for pharmacists to refuse to dispense the drug, or to work at places that don’t stock it.

    I have terrible allergies sometimes. Adult antihistimines, however, knock me out; I need to buy the children’s stuff. Not all pharmacies stock the children’s brands that I prefer. Should I force them to stock it, because it’s too hard for me to make a trip to another store?

    Given that:
    1) pharmacists must go to school for six years to get their degree and cannot easily change professions; and
    2) Plan B is notably different from ALL other drugs,
    I have a hard time requiring pharmacists to do dispense this medication. Usually, pharmaceuticals have a therapeutic effect for the patient (and it is the job of the pharmacist to ensure that the patient will not suffer side effects or other drug interactions); furthermore, there is no negative effect upon another person. I do think that pharmacists – like everyone else – have a duty to not harm others.

    It’s not that hard for women to find a pharmacy that stocks and will dispense Plan B. In the age of Blackberries, they can call the pharmacy before stopping in to see if it is stocked and if the pharmacist on duty will dispense it.

    We would not allow a pharmacist to deny painkillers to a patient, but we do not require OB-GYNs to perform abortion procedures against their will. The question really becomes this: is Plan B more like a painkiller or an abortion procedure?

    As many gynecologists will refuse to perform abortions, Planned Parenthood has set up abortion clinics. I see no reason why the same thing would not happen with Plan B. The market will take care of it, whether it be local clinics which are committed to dispensing the drug, online retailers who will FedEx it, or large chains who will have clear policies which require stores to stock it and pharmacists to dispense it.

    While you do point out that things could be quite crazy if, for example, taxi drivers were allowed to refuse service to women or those carrying alcohol, we should not err on the side of too much regulation. Should doctors be forced to perform plastic surgery or abortion procedures, simply because it would be too diffucult and humilating for women to have to shop around for MDs who will perform the desired procedure?

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