Pharmacists Shouldn’t Be Contraceptive Gatekeepers

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about how the new Department of Health and Human Services rule makes it easier for health care workers to refuse services — such as dispensing contraceptives — because of personal religious objections. What has been talked about less is the fact that prior to this rule, pharmacists across the United States were already denying patients contraceptives, either illegally or under cover of state laws.

Six states have legislation that explicitly allows pharmacists to refuse to provide medication based on their personal religious beliefs. Six more states have broad refusal laws that could be interpreted as allowing the same behavior. As of 2011, The National Women’s Law Center had received complaints of pharmacists refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions from at least 24 states.

Even more harmful, some pharmacists both refuse to fill the prescription and decline to transfer it to another pharmacy that will.

HHS has made it clear that its support lies with pharmacists and other health care workers who take such actions, which privileges their religious beliefs over the rights of patients. What’s unclear is who in the Trump administration supports the patients who are left standing at the pharmacy counter with empty hands.

Some years ago, I walked into a pharmacy to fill a prescription. A young woman was already at the counter, red-faced and nearly in tears. I heard enough of her exchange with the pharmacist to realize he was refusing her emergency contraceptives. When she stumbled off, clearly shaken and embarrassed, I went after her and gave her directions to the nearest Planned Parenthood. There wasn’t much else I could do because the state we were in allowed pharmacists to refuse service.

The reality is even women in states without refusal laws don’t have many options for recourse. They can complain to the pharmacy’s management. They can complain to their state pharmacy board. But neither of those courses of action guarantees they will receive the medication.

If the pharmacist refuses to transfer or return the prescription, it can mean another expensive doctor’s trip. Even if the prescription is returned, it means another trip to another pharmacy. These roadblocks can ultimately lead to unwanted pregnancies, forcing women to undergo unnecessary abortions or carry unintended pregnancies to term.

A National Women’s Law Center survey found 61 percent of voters opposed religious exemption laws. And yet Trump’s HHS has shifted even the Office for Civil Rights mission statement to privilege health care workers’ religious beliefs over the rights of patients.

Pharmacists are health care professionals. They’re not the morality police. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

61 comments

Emma L
Ellie L4 days ago

Thank you.

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Leo C
Leo Custer5 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Emily J
Emily J5 days ago

If they won't do their job properly because "religious beliefs" they should get a different job.

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Olivia H
Olivia H6 days ago

thanks for this

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson7 days ago

Thank you.

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Leo C
Leo Custer14 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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pam w
pam w16 days ago

It just occurred to me--do pharmacists have to take an oath, as doctors do? If so...I'll bet you everything in my purse that their oath does NOT say "I promise to dispense good medicines to all patients, without judgement or exclusions due to my religion." But--it SHOULD!

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara17 days ago

If the pharmacists don't want to sell medicine they should be in a different job.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara17 days ago

A supermarket worker in UK refused to put alcohol through the till because they were Muslim and it was against their principles. They were removed from the till job and when they complained to a labour court the court agreed the supermarket was right; a normal member of staff can't decide the goods they are going to sell or not sell to law-abiding customers.

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