The Right to Choose or The Power to Compel?
advocates cherish the right of choice. But not all choices are
created equal. People who uphold a woman's right to make her own
reproductive decisions want to deny others the right not to take
part in those decisions. The demand for freedom has been turned
into a pretext for compulsion.
arises because some pharmacists, acting under the protection of
state laws, have declined to dispense morning-after pills and
oral contraceptives, which they see as a form of abortion. Women
with prescriptions for these medicines have to take them to pharmacists
who feel differently.
groups think pharmacists have no right to choose. "The role
of a pharmacist is to dispense medicine, not morality," says
Tracy Fischman, vice president for public policy at the Chicago
office of Planned Parenthood.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich couldn't agree more. He's issued an emergency
regulation that leaves little discretion to pharmacies, regardless
of the moral sentiments of their pharmacists. If a woman brings
in a prescription for morning-after pills or birth control pills,
he declared, "the pharmacy will be expected to accept that
prescription and fill it. No delays. No hassles. No lectures."
If that means a small pharmacy has to keep an extra pharmacist
on duty at all times, too bad.
like several other states, has a "Health Care Right of Conscience"
law, which says doctors, nurses and other health care providers
can't be required to provide medicines, procedures or services
that are "contrary to their conscience."
of the law is broad enough to suggest that pharmacists are covered
by it. But when a Chicago pharmacist declined on two occasions
to fill a prescription for morning-after pills, Planned Parenthood
staged a protest that gained national attention.
The New York
Times, which defends the right of women to control their own bodies
by ending their pregnancies, thinks pharmacists have no right
to control their own bodies by refusing to dispense certain pills.
It editorialized, "This is an intolerable abuse of authority
by pharmacists who have no business forcing their own moral or
ethical views onto customers who may not share them." By
this logic, however, customers are entitled to force
their moral or ethical views onto pharmacists who may not share
In a free
society, writers are allowed to write, and publishers to publish,
material that others find dangerous, immoral or offensive. But
neither they nor readers have a right to insist that bookstores
carry what they produce. They are obliged to find others who are
prepared to cooperate with them. And if that means their work
goes unsold and unread, so be it.
principle of voluntary cooperation should govern this dispute.
As long as morning-after pills are legal, women are entitled to
buy them from willing sellers. But that shouldn't allow them to
force transactions on sellers who are not willing.
this duty on pharmacists puts a unique burden on them. Doctors,
after all, aren't forced to write prescriptions for morning-after
or contraceptive pills. Even under the governor's order, pharmacy
owners are free not to carry such drugs. The only people denied
all choice by the governor's regulation are pharmacists.
pharmacists and their supporters are guilty of the same offense
as their critics -- forcing some people to accommodate their choices
even if they disagree. The conscience law compels drug store owners
to employ pharmacists who refuse to perform some of the normal
functions of the job.
might rather put customer needs above the preferences of employees.
But that choice is off the table. Under the conscience law, employers
involved in health care can't discriminate against employees who
refuse to do something they find morally objectionable.
is one of the celebrated values of modern American society. But
in this case, what each side demands is state-mandated uniformity.
Abortion-rights advocates want every pharmacy that carries oral
contraceptives to dispense them regardless of the moral view of
the pharmacists. Abortion opponents want every drugstore to let
pharmacists decide what drugs they will dispense, regardless of
the moral views or business interests of the owner.
a compromise: Let individual pharmacies decide what drugs to dispense,
and let pharmacists who disagree find other places to work. Let
patients who can't get their prescriptions filled at one pharmacy
go to another pharmacy with a different policy.
create some inconveniences, sometimes, for some people. But it's
a small price to pay for protecting the freedom of everyone.
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