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Free Exercise...Or Force?

 article about contraceptive
  Religious conservatives argue their moral beliefs against
contraception give pro-life pharmacists the right to refuse dispensing
prescriptions for various contraceptive methods. Pro-choice advocates
argue personal convictions, whatever they may be, do not give these
pharmacists the right to withhold patient medications. It has been
unclear which side will triumph after years of active debate. One
question, however, has been overlooked and must be addressed now: When
did the right to free exercise of religion become the right to force it?

  To get our answer, let's look at the First Amendment. The
relevant section deals specifically with religion and government.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Although written over two
hundred years ago, the language isn't that hard to understand. Simply
put, it says that Congress can't force a state or national religion
onto Americans, nor can it prohibit them the right to free exercise of

This statement is so simple there shouldn't be any doubt as to its
meaning or intent. Yet pharmacists who insist it is their right to
refuse filling prescriptions for contraceptives for religious or
"moral" reasons are missing the obvious. Specifically, that "free
exercise of religion" stops with each individual. When a pro-life
pharmacist says he will not fill contraceptive prescriptions because
his religion doesn't permit it, he has crossed the line. He is no
longer exercising his religion for himself but is establishing through
force his religious doctrine on the customer. If Congress isn't allowed
to establish a religion nor religious doctrine for a state or country,
it cannot be legally possible for one individual to force his or her
religion onto another.

Karen L. Brauer, President of Pharmacists For Life, states pro-life
pharmacists have a "right of conscience". She and others argue that
this right or "conscience clause" permits them to do two things: opt
out of filling prescriptions for contraceptives, and refuse passing on
the slip for dispensing by another pharmacist. Brauer makes several
arguments why their perceived right trumps that of the customer who
brings in a prescription for contraceptives. We need to look at the
objections presented, and answer each one individually.

Objection #1

"We should be free to opt out of killing humans at any stage of
development," Ms Brauer stated in an article that appeared in the April
8, 2005 issue of the Christian Science Monitor. Ms Brauer's position is
that emergency and regular oral contraceptives work by inhibiting
ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. While most medical
professionals define pregnancy as beginning with implantation in the
uterus, she and others consider a fertilized egg - even before
implantation - to be human. It is only a belief, however, and does not
give her or Pharmacists For Life the right to force it onto another
person by refusing to fill her contraceptive prescription.

Objection #2

"Forced referral is stupid," Brauer bluntly stated in an Associated
Press report on September 16, 2004. "If we're not going to kill a human
being, we're not going to help the customer go do it somewhere else."
She insists pro-life pharmacists have the right to refuse dispensing
contraceptive prescriptions themselves, and can also opt out of
referring customers elsewhere or transferring prescriptions.

Once again, Brauer has decided that her religious beliefs and those of
Catholics or Christians opposed to contraception are superior to the
legal right of every customer to obtain the contraceptive prescribed by
her doctor. The fact that the law states otherwise is irrelevant, as
she honestly believes her opinions are "divine law" and should be
honored no matter what. Her underlying message is obvious to anyone who
can read: "Screw the law, it doesn't apply to me."

Objection #3

Pro-life pharmacists insist they shouldn't have to fill prescriptions
for contraceptives due to moral or religious beliefs. Using this
"logic" a sales clerk at a package store shouldn't have to sell whiskey
to a customer because she has personal objections to hard liquor. Using
this "logic" any employee should be exempt from performing parts of a
job she doesn't like. That argument is unlikely to fly with employers.
If an employee is accepting money for working at a particular
establishment, it is that person's responsibility to perform all parts
of the job that are expected.

In the case of a pharmacist, a large part of the job is filling
prescriptions written by doctors for customers. A pharmacist who has
problems dispensing prescriptions for contraceptives due to religious
conflicts has two options. He can either seek employment in a store
that doesn't stock contraceptives at all or change career. Nobody is
forcing a person to stay at a job where he or she is unhappy with the
work. Any pharmacist, however, who takes a job at a store location
selling contraceptives along with other inventory had better be ready
to comply with the duties of the job or risk losing it.

Comstock Revisited?

It is alarming enough that reports of pharmacy refusals of this nature
are increasing. It is even worse that a growing number of pharmacy
owners and managers are supporting employees who claim "right of
conscience" in refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions. It raises
a disturbing question in some of our minds. Chiefly, are the notorious
and dreaded Comstock laws now being brought in through the back door
when we thought they'd been kicked out the front?

The creator of the original anti-birth control statutes was Anthony
Comstock. Born in Connecticut, one of the most repressive states where
contraception was concerned, he moved to New York City after serving in
the Civil War. As a devout Christian, Comstock was appalled by what he
saw in the streets of the city. According to him, 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. In addition to cracking
down on the sex trade, Comstock soon began targeting the contraceptive
industry. He was positive that availability of contraception alone
produced lust and lewdness.

Brauer and Comstock, although more than a century apart, seem to have a
disturbing view in common. Each held the conviction that personal
religious beliefs gave them a special right to force their views onto
American citizens. In their minds, it didn't matter that some hold
different views regarding sex and contraception. Only "their" opinions
are important. In the past, few politicians, if any, stood up to
Comstock and told him he had no right to force his religious beliefs
onto Americans.

Happily, things have changed. Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois
publicly took a stand in April 2005 and filed an emergency law
requiring pharmacists to fill contraceptive prescriptions without
delay. Women across the nation salute him for this courageous action
and hope more governors in others in all fifty states will follow suit.
It is necessary for all Governors, Senators and Congressmen to do the
same, before religious policy-makers succeed in turning this
"conscience clause" into law. If that happens, we will truly be back in
the Dark Ages of back-alley abortions, due to the refusal of these
moralistic pharmacists to provide the contraception written for them by
their doctors, and may remain there for many years to come.

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