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Monday, March 28, 2005

The Perfect Moral Storm

Well, Easter was certainly serene and peaceful.

But that was then. This is now, and the culture wars rage on with an intensity that is only beginning to gather its full strength. It is turning into a tsunami of moral fervor that is frankly unhealthy to the body politic. I also believe that it’s going to cause the religious right to implode. They are taking their own spin far too seriously. I think their attempts to shove their morality down everybody else’s throats is going to lead to a backlash in a half that they are going to regret.

It’s what happened in Western Europe where, at any given time, you can’t find more than ten percent of the population in a church. The difference is that in Europe, even though the populace is militantly secular, their taxes still support national churches. In America, when people turn against the organized Buttinskies in the church, there isn’t going to be any more money filling their collection plates because we don’t tax people to support unpopular churches.

I think normal people, even religious people, have had their fill of the creeps and weirdos who have been using the Schiavo-Schindler tragedy to advance their own agenda. And now, comes this article in today’s Washington Post. Writer Rob Stein reports on a new movement of so called pro-life pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. Not only that, but in some cases, they even refuse to return the prescriptions to the women so that they can go elsewhere to get them filled. These pharmacists now have several Christian pro-life professional organizations supporting so called “conscience clauses” for these pharmacists.

This is a dangerous development for many reasons. Let’s start with one of the most obvious reasons, not mentioned in this otherwise fine article, but it really leapt out at me as being an obvious danger to patients.

There are many medical reasons for prescribing the birth control pill besides preventing pregnancy. It can be used to alleviate menstrual problems including heavy bleeding and painful periods. Sometimes, though less frequently than in the past, it can be used for controlling acne or other skin conditions. And there are other legitimate health reasons besides pregnancy prevention for the use of birth control pills. So, it is not a pharmacist’s place to question or second guess physicians as to why they are prescribing this, or any other specific medication. In fact, to do so could set a dangerous precedent. What else could a pharmacist, who does not have the educational background of a physician, object to, to the detriment of a patient?

But even if a woman is buying the pill for its most commonly prescribed purpose, it is not the pharmacist’s business. And he or she certainly has no right to refuse to give the prescription back to the woman so that she can take it to somebody more willing to fill it for her. Do we really need to remind pharmacists that patients, too, have rights?

And speaking of medical reasons for using the pill, what if the woman’s doctor prescribed the pill to prevent pregnancy because the woman would have an at risk pregnancy that must indeed be prevented for health reasons?

If a woman’s life or health were put at risk by pregnancy, isn’t prevention a medical decision that only the woman and her doctor should make without the interference of a third party pharmacist?

It would also be wise for these self-appointed keepers of morality to bear in mind that not every religion has decreed that the right of a not yet conceived human being takes precedence over the health and well being of a living woman. In fact, I believe, it’s only the Catholic Church and the most fundamentalist of Protestant denominations that would insist that even the risk of a woman’s life would not be an allowable exception to their contraceptive ban. And frankly most Catholics ignore their own church on this particular teaching. If a woman’s life was to be at risk from carrying a pregnancy to term, most of my Catholic friends would avoid the pregnancy and it wouldn’t be by playing Vatican Roulette with the Rhythm Method either.

On the other hand, Orthodox Jews, who also forbid abortion and birth control, absolutely insist on both contraception and even abortion if either are necessary to save a mother’s life; so, perhaps good Christians should think twice before interfering with somebody else’s faith tradition or individual conscience.

But the final irony in all this is that the pharmacists who insist most vociferously that filling prescriptions for contraceptives is a moral wrong play into the hands of the anti-abortion movement’s most strident enemies. There are many pro-choice people who sincerely believe that the pro-life movement is not really concerned about the life of the fetus at all, but is really just attempting to impose its moral standards on everybody else as well as trying to control women’s bodies.

After all, prevention of conception is not the same as aborting a fetus which has already been conceived and is a growing human being, even in the womb. It is only by willfully ignoring the most basic science that somebody can equate birth control with abortion. Even the morning after pill is not an abortion. The morning after pill simply prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. It’s not murder. It’s the prevention of conception. Again, only the most unscientific of Luddites would fail to make that distinction. (I know, I know, what am I saying – these are the same Luddites who do practice junk science on a regular basis).

It is anybody’s right to believe that birth control is wrong and that every act of lovemaking must be open to the possibility of conception. But it is nobody’s right to impose that belief on somebody else. That steps over the line of religious liberty in this country. Pharmacists do have the right to follow their conscience. So, in their own personal lives, if they believe that birth control is wrong, they don’t have to practice it in their lovemaking. But it is not their place to make this decision for anybody else. And remember, we are not talking about the taking of a life here. That is a different matter entirely.

This is just about freedom of conscience. And pharmacists are not God. They have to respect women’s and doctors’ freedom here too.

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