The Lamp

Where truth can be shared.

Pharmacists Must Dispense Plan B

Posted by thelamp on September 7, 2006

If you fill prescriptions for a living, prepare to put your conscience aside when you walk into work. Pharmacy regulators in Washington State have misguidedly decided that a druggist’s personal objections should not stand in the way of a patient seeking an abortion disguised as contraception.

The Aug. 31 decision was a reversal for the state Board of Pharmacy, which has been in a political tug-of-war since it declared pharmacists might be able to deny prescriptions for personal reasons.

The seven-member Pharmacy Board adopted the new proposal — developed and pushed by Gov. Chris Gregoire — in a lopsided vote, with only Seattle pharmacist Donna Dockter dissenting.

People claiming to be advocates for women worked out the compromise with Gregoire and the Washington State Pharmacy Association. Although they were elated by the vote, the pharmacy group’s director, Rod Shafer, was less enthusiastic but said the compromise was a good way to settle the issue.

“While I don’t think everybody got what they wanted, I think the language is livable the way it is,” he told the Associated Press.

The Pharmacy Board’s ruling is wrapped up in the controversy over emergency contraception, the “morning-after” birth control pill that dramatically cuts the chances of pregnancy if taken within a few days of intercourse.

“It’s absolutely unconscionable for lawmakers to force anyone to violate their moral or religious beliefs,” noted Pastor Rod Parsley, founder and president of the Center for Moral Clarity. “Health care professionals should not have to choose between their jobs and their God.”

The pill, a heavier dose of a drug used in many regular birth-control pills, is sold commercially as Plan B. Its manufacturer recently secured federal approval for over-the-counter sales, which could be rolled out nationally by year’s end.

The manufacturer contends that Plan B is not an abortion pill. If a woman is pregnant, the pill will have no effect. The earlier that a woman takes the pill after unprotected sex, the more effective the pill is by blocking ovulation, fertilization or in some cases keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

Advocates for family and protecting life, however, oppose the pill because interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion.

C.J. Kahler, a Sammamish pharmacist and former state pharmacy association president, said druggists’ rights to religious freedom should shield them from dispensing the pill if they oppose it.

The rule adopted Aug. 31 essentially told pharmacists such as Kahler to “stuff my conscience,” he said after the meeting.

The compromise rule declares that pharmacists “have a duty to dispense lawfully prescribed … drugs or devices.” The measure lists exceptions, but a druggist’s personal beliefs are not included.

The rule may be changed in the coming months to place the dispensing duty on pharmacies rather than individual druggists — an important distinction called for in Gregoire’s proposal, but changed by the board.

Putting the duty on the pharmacy would give druggists with objections to certain prescriptions a limited escape — they could have a co-worker fill the order instead, but only if the patient was still able to get the prescription on the same visit.

The Pharmacy Board still must grant final approval to the language, which could be amended. That action will likely come near the end of this year, spokesman Steve Saxe said.

State legislators also could take up the debate this winter, and lawmakers on both sides of the issue have been closely following the Pharmacy Board’s handling of the emergency-contraception rules.

It’s disappointing that in the last seven years only one state — Mississippi — has had the courage to pass a broad-based law allowing druggists to refuse filling abortion-related medications. Most state assemblies appear to share the misguided opinion of Washington’s Pro-abortion Gov. Chris Gregoire, who hinted that Pharmacy Board members could be replaced if they supported the conscience clause. Despite the threats and pressure, pharmacists – and people along every walk of life – must continue to fight for the right to make professional choices based on their moral convictions.


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