Woman suing two pharmacies after being denied emergency contraception

The US case brings to light concerns around conscientious objection at a time when a federal religious discrimination bill is being debated in Australia

AJP

Sheshtyn Paola

A woman has filed a lawsuit against a Thrifty White Pharmacy and a CVS Pharmacy in Minnesota in the US, alleging the two pharmacies illegally kept her from accessing emergency contraception.

Andrea Anderson, a 39-year-old mother of five, says she asked the pharmacist at her drugstore in Minnesota more than once why he couldn’t fill her prescription for emergency contraception, according to the Star Tribune.

“I then realised what was happening: he was refusing to fill my prescription for emergency contraception because he did not believe in it,” Ms Anderson said on Tuesday. . . [Full text]

Conscientious objectors have right not to stock morning after pill, judge says

Women’s rights activists say women still find it difficult to access the morning-after pill

Malta Today

Laura Calleja

Access to the morning-after pill remains problematic for women – especially on Sundays when not all pharmacies are open, according to women’s rights activists.

The problem stems from the refusal of some pharmacists to stock and sell the emergency contraceptive because they have moral objections to the pill.

A recent undertaking by newspaper Illum showed that 70% of pharmacies contacted by the newspaper sold the morning-after pill. However, it also confirmed that three in 10 pharmacies were refusing to stock the pill. . . . [Full Text]

Defending freedom of conscience on emergency contraception

CMF Blogs
Reproduced with permission

Philippa Taylor*

The UK’s biggest abortion provider, British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), has attacked pharmacists who do not sell the ‘morning-after pill’ for conscience reasons. 

After one incident when a pharmacist would not dispense emergency contraception to a woman for ‘personal’ reasons, BPAS condemned both the pharmacist and the conscience protections provided to pharmacists. A petition was set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming freedom of conscience rights. 

Under the current law, covered by guidance from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), pharmacists with a genuine conscientious objection to selling the pill may refer the customer to another pharmacist.

However, BPAS complained that it is ‘impossible to overstate the significance of even one pharmacist conscientiously objecting to selling the morning-after pill’. 

Fortunately, the General Pharmaceutical Council, in this case, upheld its guidelines and the consequent media coverage has now died down, temporarily at least.

This may seem like a one-off minor incident, but it is an illustration of increasing pressures on freedom of conscience protections. It is often assumed that the role of the conscience in medicine is relevant only to a few specialised and limited areas such as contraception or abortion, but in fact, the concept of the conscience goes right to the heart of what it means to act in a moral way, to act with integrity.

If we do not stand by those who are under pressure, the problems will only get worse and will spread. A well-known quote, often attibuted to Burke though it may have come originally from J S Mill, warns: ‘He should not be lulled to repose by the delusion that he does no harm who takes no part in public affairs. He should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing.’

The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) has therefore written to the General Pharmaceutical Council to ensure they are aware of our concerns and to thank them for holding to their guidance. The text of our letter is as follows, with their response after it:

‘I am writing to you following the recent news coverage of a Lloyds pharmacy worker who, according to news reports, conscientiously objected to selling the morning-after pill and directed a customer to another pharmacy instead. I note that a petition has since been set up to prevent pharmacists from claiming conscientious objection rights.

‘The Christian Medical Fellowship is the UK’s largest faith-based group of health professionals and we contributed with both written and oral evidence to your review of your Guidance on Religion, Personal Values and Beliefs. We publicly welcomed the new Guidance and the statement accompanying it, in which the Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council highlighted the positive contribution that pharmacists’ faith can make in their provision of care. We also welcomed the clear statement that: “Pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs”.

‘We all aspire to person-centred care. In any care scenario, there are (at least) two parties – the carer and the one receiving care – each of whom has rights. The General Pharmaceutical Council guidance helpfully achieves a balance between the patient’s right to service access and the pharmacist’s right to freedom of conscience.

Respect for the sincerely held religious and moral beliefs of employees is essential and we are concerned that some of the demands being made, based on this one recent case, would marginalise the beliefs, values and religion of pharmacists disproportionately and unnecessarily, and trivialise their right to freedom of conscience under the law. Despite widespread coverage of this case, we have yet to see evidence of recurring complaints under the present provisions.

‘While we strongly support the right to freedom of conscience for pharmacists, we do also emphasise the importance of openness and sensitive communication with colleagues and employers; any refusal to supply should be made courteously and sensitively.

‘On behalf of CMF, I want to thank the Council for protecting the right of pharmacists to refuse to engage in certain procedures that violate their most profound moral convictions.

‘I also encourage the Council to continue to make it clear, publicly, that all pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs.

Yours faithfully

Dr Mark Pickering
Chief Executive, CMF

The General Pharmaceutical Council replied with the following two sentences:

‘Our existing guidance In practice: Guidance on religion, personal values and beliefs (to which you refer) remains in place. We have no current plans to review it. As you are aware, the guidance sits under our standards for pharmacy professionals and relates to standard 1, Pharmacy professionals must provide person-centred care.’

The point here is simple but vital: if we care about liberty and personal integrity, we must make a reasoned defence of it in the public square, from the smallest incident to the biggest.

Alberta medical regulator wants College of Family Physicians of Canada to help improve abortion pill access

The Globe and Mail

Carly Weeks

Alberta’s medical regulator is calling on the college representing Canada’s family doctors to help it boost prescribing rates of the abortion pill, saying the current poor access in the province is putting patients at risk . . .

. . . A Globe and Mail investigation on Saturday revealed that the majority of abortion-pill prescriptions across Canada are being written at abortion clinics, which are primarily located in large urban centres. . .[Full text]

Pharmacist refused to give morning after pill on a Sunday ‘for personal reasons’

Metro

Martine Berg Olsen

A mum was told she couldn’t have emergency contraception because it went against the beliefs of the only pharmacist working that Sunday.

Siani, 41, visited her local LloydsPharmacy at Sainsbury’s on Lewes Road, Brighton, when a female member of staff refused to give her the morning after pill for ‘personal reasons’.

Knowing that there are not many pharmacies open on a Sunday, Siani ordered the contraception online and paid upfront for collection. . . [Full text]