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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004


abortion morality vs professional ethics

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, November 10, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
There have been reports of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth-control pills. These illustrate the fundamental contradictions in the conservative case against abortion, which I think ultimately harm the pro-life cause.

Make no mistake on my own position here - I agree that a pharmacist shoudl be able to refuse to dispense a medication on moral grounds. However, professional ethics require that they acknowledge the patient's medical needs - as prescribed by a doctor.

For a year, Julee Lacey stopped in a CVS pharmacy near her home in a Fort Worth suburb to get refills of her birth-control pills. Then one day last March, the pharmacist refused to fill Lacey's prescription because she did not believe in birth control.
Lacey, of North Richland Hills, Texas, filed a complaint with the Texas Board of Pharmacy after her prescription was refused in March. In February, another Texas pharmacist at an Eckerd drug store in Denton wouldn't give contraceptives to a woman who was said to be a rape victim.

In the Madison case, pharmacist Neil Noesen, 30, after refusing to refill a birth-control prescription, did not transfer it to another pharmacist or return it to the woman. She was able to get her prescription refilled two days later at the same pharmacy, but she missed a pill because of the delay.

She filed a complaint after the incident occurred in the summer of 2002 in Menomonie, Wis. Christopher Klein, spokesman for Wisconsin's Department of Regulation and Licensing, says the issue is that Noesen didn't transfer or return the prescription. A hearing was held in October. The most severe punishment would be revoking Noesen's pharmacist license, but Klein says that is unlikely.

As the article notes, the American Pharmacists Association has a policy that says pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions if they object on moral grounds, but they must make arrangements so the patient can still obtain their meds. However, the fact that in the Madison case, Klein admits that license revoication is unlikely, suggests that the policy has no teeth.

Pharmacists who refuse to accomodate a patient inconvenienced by that pharmacists' personal moral principles are essentially appropriating the role of the doctor in determining what is best for the medical health of that patient. Confiscation of the Rx slip is a gross abuse and demands license revocation.

This speaks to a larger issue. Why is birth control an issue? If the pro-life position seeks to stop abortions, then birth control seems an inherent piece of that effort. After all, without birth control options, the number of unwanted children rises, and the number of abortions will increase. Attempting to stifle birth control - even prior to conception! - is completely counter-productive to the fundamental goal of preserving life.

Note that we aren't talking about morning-after pills here. These religious pharmacists are trying to impose an "every sperm/egg is sacred" ethos upon the population, by denying them a basic and essential piece of family planning.

Now, a possible counter-argument is that abstinence would work better than birth control. However, abstinence is a lifestyle choice when it comes to adults. While I share conservatives' horror at teaching explicit sex education to grade school kids, I think that expectations of abstinenec are ludicrous for married couples who need to do basic family planning.

What's needed is a new way of formulating the case against abortion so that it is more results-orienetd rather than means-oriented. The latter is completely counter-productive. I seriously doubt that these pharmacists have really given any serious thought to their crusade, it's more of a knee-jerk reaction. With some effort, a more sensible position could be articulated that synthesises left and right that actually makes a genuine difference in reducing abortion nationwide.


My understand of the situation is: one of the possible outcomes of taking birth control pills is that they can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus.

Now honestly I don't know if that's true or not, but pro-life people believe it is true, and that is why they arer against using the pill as a method of birth control.


According to my (very Catholic) aunt, enabling a sin makes you as guilty as if you had committed that sin yourself; i.e. enabling fornication makes you, in a sense, a fornicator. And, as rluxemburg noted, some pills have the ability to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, potentially making the pharmicist a party to abortion.



Can't we just agree to disagree?

I understand Kinmerlee's point (above), but to follow along that line of reason to absurdity - should a pro-life American be held responsible as an enabler, for freedom to abort in Canada - even though we have absolutely NO SAY whatsoever in what Canada chooses to do?

We cannot compromise, because our positions are too divergent. So how about finding another way? We could make this a STATES RIGHTS issue. Leave it up to the states to decide. As I see it, that's a win-win. People who choose to have abortions in Red States with abortion bans can do so, they just may have to travel a bit farther. And people who object to all abortions on religious grounds can rest easy, because like in the Canada scenario above, they would be absolved from responsibility.


My wife and I would be more than happy to stop using birth control if the anti-birth control lobby would like to pay for us to raise a dozen children or so. ... I didn't think so.


Conservative viewpoint ahead. I consider myself pro-life, but I have no problems with contraception. I think there are many more like myself. The anti-contraception crowd is mostly faithful Catholics and some evangelicals. I think it would behove liberals to acknowledge that many people have problems with abortion that are not religious.

The situation in the article seems silly and while I can see both sides of the argument, I am not going to spend my time defending the pharmacist. If you want to see why conservatives are so against abortion on demand (the more mainstream side of the pro-life movement), I encourage you to read this story in the New York TImes. If the link isn't working, then google "New York Times selective reduction" and you'll see quite a few blogs and their reaction.

There is a middle ground on abortion in the country, but Roe v. Wade is preventing us from compromising. The last time I checked Gallup, only 25% of people that abortion should outlawed except in the case of the life of the mother. Another 25% thought the way things are now is fine where any abortion should be legal. 50% thought it should be restricted in some cases but allowed in others (rape, incest, first trimester, etc). I hope Roe v. Wade is overturned so that state legislatures can represent their constituents and compromise on this issue. Judicial activism (and abortion as a symptom) is the major cause of the divide in this country. We need compromises to avoid the red-blue fallacy. Lets end the binary choice on abortion and get past the "pro-life" v. "pro-choice" rut we are in.


I wonder how many of these pharmacists are refusing to fill perscriptions for Viagra.


I agree, Doverspa - in fact, that same article on selective reduction almost made me pro-life after reading it. Almost :) What we need is new terminology, and I plan to try and explore what that terminology could be.

I don't see states' rights as a solution though, for teh simple and practical reason that a doctor who performs abortions in one state might be accused of murder if they were traveling through another state. States rights apply fine to policy issues, but if murder is declared equivalent to homicide in one state but not another, then we introduce all kinds of problems.

Suppose you're a doctor in a blue state with no insurance caps? You cant practice in the blue state anymore because it's too expensive. And you can't travel to the red states because they'd arrest you the moment you crossed the state line! this is just one example of the kind of barriers to free movement within the US, from a commerce/trade perspective, that such selective morality laws would introduce.

I think that the goal of legislating abortion as murder is simply not tenable. But working tor educe abortion, together, is a common ground area that we shoudl all be willing to embrace regardless of our position.

But Roe vs Wade must stand, Im afraid. Let's make it moot.


Just one final though on my states rights suggestion -

In the town I lived in last fall, there was a referendum determining whether or not "adult zones" should be allowed. It failed.

If businesses can be regulated on a town-by-town level, why not allow regulation of abortion clinics on a town-by-town level, or statewide? It wouldn't be illegal to perform abortions in a given town/state, but it would be illegal to set up a business that does it, which amounts to the same thing.


Mr. Poonawalla, I have read your restrictions. I think if you were to watch Meet the Press, on 11-14-04. and the comments from Bob jones @ Bob jones Universtiy and the comments from Richard Lamb of the Southern Baptist
and then apply thier statements to your deleting of thoughts that would be interesting. WE MUST not be honest or thuthful, is that correct?? After you have read what they said , I would like you to comment on those.


Sorry Carolyn, but no straw-men arguments, please. What extremosts such as Dobson or the "mullahs" at Bob JOnes say is one thing - your sloppy characterization of all religious people is quite another.

You'll need to make sure you correctly qualify your statements if you want them to pass muster.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.