Back in 2007 Washington state legislators signed a new law into effect that says a pharmacist can only refuse to dispense emergency contraception due to religious beliefs if there is another pharmacist available to dispense the medication on the customers same visit. This is because the state feels that a persons right to take medicine trumps a pharmacist right to refuse based on religion. Religion can be a sticky subject, but I feel this law is fair. Some pharmacists will not only refuse to dispense emergency contraception, but they will refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and even antiretrovirals for AIDS patients because they disagree with the lifestyle that got the person AIDS.
One particular pharmacy has challenged this law by saying the law is unfair, that they in fact should not dispense medication they are morally opposed to and that they believe emergency contraception acts as an abortion agent. On November 28th their complaint goes to a federal court to determine whose rights are more important; those of the person seeking Plan B or those of the pharmacist who refuses to dispense it.
Let’s start with some facts. First, Plan B does not act as an abortion agent. It stops you from ovulating thus preventing pregnancy. No pregnancy means no abortion. Period. Some people claim that emergency contraception prevents implantation and this acts as an abortion because it prevents a fertilized egg from growing into a baby. While there is evidence that Plan B and Ella (another brand of emergency contraception) may change the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation there really isn’t any proof that this actually happens because they are so effective at preventing ovulation from occurring. On top of that there is in fact evidence showing that Plan B will not impact an already implanted egg so once again still no abortion.
Now for my opinion; while it is absolutely your right to practice your religion, it is not your right to deny someone else any medication they may want or need because of your religion and shoddy science. Your religion should not trump their right to live their life as they see fit. The law allowing religious exemption as long as someone else is there to fill the needs of the customer seems absolutely reasonable. Just ensure you have at least on person on staff during each shift who is comfortable dispensing emergency contraception and there is no cause for issue.
Religious exemptions seems to be a hot button issue these days with numerous reports speculating that President Obama may be considering broadening the religious exemption in the new laws requiring that birth control be covered at no co pay under insurance plans starting in August of next year. The case in Washington could be heavily influenced by what President Obama does; if he concludes religious exemptions are more important than accessible health care for all then it opens the door for judges in this case to conclude the same.