Increasing reports of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives are raising concerned questions among pro-choicers. In two recent cases, a pharmacist not only declined to fill the prescription presented by the customer for dispensing, but also refused to give the slip back to the customer for filling at another location. Not surprisingly, Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists For Life, supports their actions, claiming that if a person believes that emergency contraception causes a "chemical abortion," the pharmacist has every right to prevent that prescription from being dispensed elsewhere.
The most current case took place in January 2005, at a branch of Walgreen's Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A mother of six children had taken her prescription for the "morning-after" pill, also known as MAP, to her local Walgreen's for dispensing. Instead of having her prescription filled without any hassles, this mom, who quite understandably asked not to be identified, fearing a possible backlash, was publicly berated by the pharmacist on duty at the time.
"You're a murderer. I will not help you kill this baby. I will not have its blood on my hands," the pharmacist is reported to have said. Michelle Long, who was interviewed by Channel 12 in Milwaukee, now denies ever making that statement. Long was fired in May, five months after the refusal took place. Jane Doe also reported that Long snatched the form and the prescription from her, and never gave it back, claiming it was "full of lies and I won't be part of it."
Humiliated by Long's public lecture, and fearful that she would face the same treatment by another pharmacist at a different location, Doe never got her prescription filled. As a result of a refusal by a pharmacist to do her job, Doe became pregnant, and chose to have an abortion. A surgical abortion, which emergency contraception would most likely have prevented, had it been taken in time.
What is particularly alarming is that reports of pharmacy refusals of this nature are increasing, and that the pharmacies are supporting employees who claim to be "exercising their right of conscience" in not filling prescriptions that go against their moral or religious beliefs. It raises a disturbing question in some of our minds; chiefly, are the notorious and dreaded Comstock laws now being brought through the back door when they can't enter by the front?
The creator of the original anti-birth control statutes was Anthony Comstock, who was born in Connecticut – one of the most repressive states where contraception was concerned – then moved to New York City after serving in the infantry during the Civil War. A devout Christian, Comstock was appalled by what he saw in the streets of the city. In his view, the town was full of prostitutes and pornography. In the late 1860's, he began supplying information to the police for raids on sex trade merchants and rose to prominence with his "anti-obscenity" cause. Not content with cracking down on the sex trade, Comstock also began targeting the contraceptive industry. He was positive that availability of contraception alone provided lust and lewdness.
In 1872, Comstock went to Washington with an anti-obscenity bill, which included a ban on contraceptives that he drafted himself. In 1873, Congress passed the new law, which came to be known as the Comstock Act. The statute defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit, and made it a federal crime to provide birth control through the mail or across state lines.
Because of one man's beliefs that contraception was some kind of societal "evil," women were prevented from gaining access to any methods of stopping unwanted pregnancies, and many of them became pregnant as a result. The efforts of Karen Brauer and her organization Pharmacists For Life, is a similar – and frightening – duplication of the Comstock crusade to deny access to contraception. Recent interviews of Brauer in the media have recorded some rather disturbing statements.
In a Washington Post story on March 27, Brauer defends the right of pharmacists to not only decline filling prescriptions for contraception themselves, but also to refer customers elsewhere or transfer their prescriptions. "That's like saying, ‘I don't kill people myself, but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does.' What's that saying? ‘I will not off your husband, but I know a buddy who will?' It's the same thing," said Brauer. She now works at a hospital pharmacy after being fired by Kmart for lying to a customer about the store not having the prescription she wanted in stock.
The Associated Press reported on September 16, 2004, that Brauer does not believe there should be any obligation to refer rebuffed customers to another pharmacist who would fill their prescription. "Forced referral is stupid," Brauer said. "If we're not going to kill a human being, we're not going to help the customer go do it somewhere else."
Pharmacists For Life goes even further, denouncing pharmacists who refer patients to other pharmacists who will fill their prescriptions:
"A pharmacist by virtue of properly understood conscience cannot be licitly compelled to cooperate in such a fashion with what he knows will result in a chemical abortion and, hence, a dead baby. Such activity is called material cooperation. Further, it is not an inconvenience to refuse to refer such a client, since the pharmacist is doing the woman and preborn child a favor in terms of physical and spiritual health." "Material cooperation with such an evil can never be licit even if it may be lawful, as it is in today's society. In fact, pharmacists aware of the evil nature of such a scenario would have a duty as a pharmacist and a person not to cooperate in such an evil even under pain of serious adverse ramifications. Some authors, hiding their publicly stated support for any and all baby killing, have erroneously stated shameful opinions which equivocate on the rights of conscience and thus claim a pharmacist may have a right of conscience, but if all else fails, he must cooperate with the evil in our example. Such thinking shows the irrational absurdity and confusion in the minds of those who adhere to such ideas."
Karen Brauer has obviously decided that her opinions should dictate how pharmacists in America will perform their jobs in future. This is remarkably similar to what Anthony Comstock's anti-contraception crusade did to Americans over a century ago. The only question remaining now is whether our politicians will have the backbone to stand up to Brauer and her organization, or will they also cave in to religious interests and pass the pharmacist's "conscience clause" into law. Given our current administration's favoring various "faith-based initiatives," the possible outcome is hardly encouraging.