In an ideal world, a person seeking out emergency contraception who encounters a pharmacist who claims to have a moral objection to the drug would simply be handed off to a different pharmacist. Now that Plan B is specifically allowed to be sold over the counter, the issue of “conscience objection” should have even less impact, since a pharmacist doesn’t have to be a part of the transaction at all.
Unfortunately, as emergency contraception and even basic hormonal birth control becomes allegedly more easy to access, anti-choice activists are escalating in their strategies to block it, and that means more campaigns against stocking birth control in the first place or allowing it to be purchased at all.
A Tennessee pharmacist is suing his former employer for religious discrimination, after the Walgreens that he worked for fired him for refusing to sell emergency contraception. According to The Tennessean, Phillip Hall was dismissed from his position after he purchased his store’s full shipment of Plan B and threw it out rather than stock it on the shelves for customers to buy. Hall, who had already been refusing to sell the emergency contraception when it was stocked behind the shelves, called the drug “sinful and repugnant,” according to his lawsuit.
The store had been selling the medication behind the counter prior to the FDA ruling over the summer that the boxes could be moved to the general purchase area once the age restrictions were lifted from it, and the standard religious objection accommodation — that Hall could simply have a different store employee finish the transaction rather than do it himself — had been good enough until the policy change.
Yet Hall chose to escalate his actions once the drug became available over the counter, showing that he wasn’t willing just to be a non-participant in what the anti-choice objectors mistakenly believed was facilitating an “abortion,” but actively working to prohibit the medication from being purchased by anyone. By purchasing the shipment, he showed that his intentions weren’t just to conscientiously remove himself from the transaction but actively impede the store’s ability to offer the contraception at all, by keeping it out of the hands of customers. Unless Hall intended to purchase every box that came into the store, he was actually working against the financial interests of his employer by keeping the drug off the shelf to make potential customers believe the store wasn’t stocking it and seeking Plan B from a competitor instead.
Hall’s actions are one sign of the escalation of anti-choice activists to get hormonal contraception out of the public square. A second is the growing push to urge CVS pharmacies to discontinue offering Plan B, a campaign tied into the company’s recent decision not to sell cigarettes in their chain. Birth control opponents latched onto a “debate” query proposed by the New York Times asking what other “harmful” products the drug store chain should eliminate, and Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, used the opportunity to launch into a diatribe about the “dangers” of Plan B, claiming it is “ineffective” and “harmful to women’s heath” and also causes hormones to flood young girls “[a]t a stage when their reproductive organs are maturing.” (Unlike, I suppose, pregnancy?)
The intent may look like it is to keep emergency contraception out of the hands of teens. That isn’t actually the case. Outside of the more “mainstream” face of their campaign is their true goal — getting rid of hormonal contraception all together. As Janet Morana, co-founder of “Silent No More” wrote on her own blog, “I would like to see [CVS] go one step further by banning the sale of contraception and abortifacient drugs….Beyond cancer, the Pill causes numerous – and serious – health risks to women, including blood clots, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cervical and liver cancer, elevated blood pressure and stroke. Shouldn’t CVS care about these known and demonstrated risks to women?”
First, all anti-choice groups wanted was the right not to “participate” in what they wrongfully deemed to be an abortion. Now, they are actively impeding the ability to purchase hormonal contraception — be it Plan B or simply the Pill. If they keep escalating their tactics, the final step will be ensuring no one can access any birth control at all.
Photo credit: PlanBonestep.com