November 30, 2005
Clamping down on wingnut pharmacists
ST. LOUIS – Walgreen Co. said it has put four Illinois pharmacists in the St. Louis area on unpaid leave for refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception in violation of a state rule.
The four cited religious or moral objections to filling prescriptions for the morning-after pill and “have said they would like to maintain their right to refuse to dispense, and in Illinois that is not an option,” Walgreen spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce said.
A rule imposed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in April requires Illinois pharmacies that sell contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control. Pharmacies that do not fill prescriptions for any type of contraception are not required to follow the rule.
… Walgreen, based in Deerfield, Ill., put the four on leave Monday, Bruce said. She would not identify them. They will remain on unpaid leave “until they either decide to abide by Illinois law or relocate to another state” without such a rule or law. For example, she said, the company would be willing to help them get licensed in Missouri and they could work for Walgreen there.
On the other hand, perhaps it isn’t getting the message:
Walgreen policy says pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions to which they are morally opposed - except where state law prohibits - but they must take steps to have the prescription filled by another pharmacist or store, Bruce said.
Naturally the wingnut pharmacists have lawyered up via the lunatic-fringe Americans United for Life, which has already filed suit on behalf of several other pharmacists who seem confused about their role in the prescription process.
First, the role of a pharmacist is to dispense—accurately—any medication that a customer legitimately needs, and if necessary advise them on how to use that medication. That’s it. Nothing else. Zip. This is especially true of emergency contraception, as a recent Policy Forum in Science explained:
Pharmacist refusals to dispense—and in some cases to refer or transfer—prescriptions for contraception threaten women’s access to basic health care both in the United States and around the world. In the United States, this problem appears to be growing; increasing reports of pharmacist refusals have surfaced in the media, and numerous states have introduced bills that would amend pharmacy codes to permit pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraception. This Policy Forum reviews current legal standards and professional ethics that govern the practice of pharmacy; this review, together with an assessment of the harm to women’s health, dictates that women must have access to contraception at the pharmacy without delay, harassment, or other interference.
Second, there’s choice out there in the marketplace. There are plenty of pharmacy chains that forbid wingnut pharmacists from aiding and abetting rapists, including Brooks/Eckerd, Kmart, CVS, Costco, Fagen’s, Harris Teeter, Super Valu and Price Chopper—although not all of their drugstores will actually stock emergency contraception, so you need to call ahead. In addition, many of the major supermarket pharmacies also offer OTC emergency contraception.
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