Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anti-Choice Pharmacies Refuse Basic Health Services

The Washington Post reports that there are a small but growing number of pharmacies that are marketing themselves as "pro-life." What does that mean? It means that these pharmacies do not carry any form of contraception -- including birth control pills, emergency contraception and condoms. Birth control is a fundamental aspect of health care for those engaging in heterosexual sex and not currently wanting to become pregnant, which means that very large numbers of people need it. And yet, the owners of these pharmacies seem willing to turn a blind eye.

"The United States was founded on the idea that people act on their conscience -- that they have a sense of right and wrong and do what they think is right and moral," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Society, a Chicago public-interest law firm that is defending a pharmacist who was fined and reprimanded for refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. "Every pharmacist has the right to do the same thing," Brejcha said.

[. . .]

The pharmacies are emerging at a time when a variety of health-care workers are refusing to perform medical procedures they find objectionable. Fertility doctors have refused to inseminate gay women. Ambulance drivers have refused to transport patients for abortions. Anesthesiologists have refused to assist in sterilizations.
The problem is that, as covered before, access to reproductive health care is an important social service. America was founded on the principle that people should follow their consciences, indeed -- but not that people should enforce their own morality on others.

Why do these pharmacists oppose contraception? After all, birth control prevents women from having unwanted pregnancies and considering abortions. Their problem is the same as the one they have with emergency contraception -- they falsely believe that it causes abortions. No amount of explaining that pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg has implanted will change their minds -- nor will the fact that there is no evidence of birth control pills preventing fertilized eggs from implanting! Radical anti-choicers have even launched a campaign called The Pill Kills, and last weekend held the Protest the Pill Day '08: The Pill Kills Babies.

But clearly, the "pro-life" pharmacy movement has nothing to do with saving the lives of fertilized eggs or babies -- after all, condoms have nothing to do with either. The pharmacies are proud to not carry the most effective tool available for preventing HIV and other harmful STDs -- seemingly not very pro-life at all. One would almost conclude that they are opposed to sexual activity entirely, except that the pharmacies seem to have no problem selling Viagra.

Some critics question how such pharmacies justify carrying drugs, such as Viagra, for male reproductive issues, but not those for women.

"Why do you care about the sexual health of men but not women?" asked Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If he gets his Viagra, why can't she get her contraception?"

The DMC Pharmacy opening in August marks an expansion by Divine Mercy Care in Fairfax, a nonprofit health-care organization that adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The group runs the Tepeyac Family Center, an obstetrics-gynecology practice in Fairfax that offers "natural family planning" instead of contraceptives, sterilization or abortion.

"We're trying not to leave our faith at the door," said John Bruchalski, who chairs the group's board of directors, noting that one of the organization's major goals is helping needy, uninsured patients obtain health care. "We're trying to create an environment where belief and professionalism come together."
But these doctors and pharmacies aren't leaving their beliefs at the door -- they're just building their own doors to hide behind. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs regarding sexual activity and contraception. It's true that some people do not believe in sex outside of marriage or any fertility control method beyond natural family planning. That's fine for those who make that choice. The problem is that most people do not make this choice and are having their health put at risk for someone else's religious beliefs.

Even worse, they're being misleading and not warning patrons of their practices in advance.

"Rape victims could end up in a pharmacy not understanding this pharmacy will not meet their needs," Greenberger said. "We've seen an alarming development of pharmacists over the last several years refusing to fill prescriptions, and sometimes even taking the prescription from the woman and refusing to give it back to her so she can fill it in another pharmacy."

Pharmacists at eight pro-life drugstores contacted by The Washington Post said they would not actively interfere with a woman trying to fill a prescription elsewhere, but none posts signs announcing restrictions or offers to help women get what they need elsewhere.

"If I don't believe something is right, the last thing I want to do is refer to someone else," said Michael G. Koelzer, who owns Kay Pharmacy in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It's up to that person to be able to find it."

Semler, at DMC Pharmacy, said he does not feel that will be an impediment.

"We just say there are other pharmacies in the area they can go to," he said, noting that the Kmart across the parking lot has a pharmacy and that there are several other national chains nearby. "We're not threatening anybody. We're just trying to serve a niche market of like-minded individuals."
One would think would that if they're trying to serve a small group of consumers, they would want to market to them. Instead, they're hiding the true nature of their businesses until after a person has been refused the reproductive health care they need. That's not "pro-life," but it is sneaky and anti-choice.

And what if more and more of these pharmacies keep popping up -- especially in rural areas with few alternative options? It may sound unlikely, but many people thought that reproductive health advocates were crying wolf when warning that anti-choice groups were trying to prevent access to contraception. And here we are, with anti-choice drugstores popping up in our communities. Legislators need to find a way to put an end to this nonsense is now, before even more lives are affected.

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