Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Interview: Ever Seeking A Clearer Conscience

How a Catholic pharmacist followed his convictions and stopped dispensing contraception.

Faith and
Reproduced with permission

A. Cyrenian

Author's note: A previous essay described several local businesses which have a positive impact on their respective communities. One of those businesses, Kay pharmacy, made a major change in its business policy. Mike Koelzer, president and co-owner of the pharmacy, personally undertook the change. I explored the issue with Mike in the following interview.

A. Cyrenian: Mike, you have recently undertaken something next to unheard-of in the pharmacy business, can you tell us first just what changes you made?

Mike Koelzer: In February 2002, our pharmacy stopped dispensing all contraceptives.

AC: What drove you to make these changes?

MK: It came down to God's teaching through the Catholic Church on the sanctity of all human life and on contraception. The Church teaches that all contraception is intrinsically evil. But there is yet a further problem with hormonal contraceptives in how they work, which is sometimes killing a newly formed life.

AC: I assume most people would be surprised at your last statement.

MK: The easiest way for me to explain this mechanism of hormonal contraceptives is by quoting directly from a package insert from a box of oral contraceptives:

"Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus) and endometrium (which reduces the likelihood of implantation)."

It is the third mechanism of action (the alteration in the endometrium which reduces the likelihood of implantation), which can kill a newly formed member of the human family by not allowing the new life to attach to the mother's uterus.

AC: How did you go about making this change?

MK: One decision I had to make was whether to stop selling contraceptives completely or continue to sell them only to customers who were using them for non-contraceptive reasons with no chance of conceiving. This seemed to be about 10-15% of my customers who were taking contraceptives. After many months of prayer and thought, I decided to discontinue the sale of all contraceptives completely. I decided a monthly interrogation of each customer was too much for the customers and my employees to go through. An OB/GYN physician friend of mine said that if the FDA pulled all of the contraceptives off of the market, it would not bother him a bit: he would still have plenty of drugs to treat those conditions for which doctors often use contraceptives.

Next, I had to get a clear picture of just what I thought God wanted me to accomplish. I had many options here. I could have chosen to convince everyone to be pro-life, I could have chosen to try to get every customer to agree with my decision, I could have chosen to teach every customer about the beauty of natural law, I could have chosen to convince everyone about the infallibility of the Catholic Church when it teaches on morality, but what I found I really needed to do was to stop selling the contraceptives. That needed to be my primary goal and so I approached all of my communication to my staff and customers this way.

My first step was then to let my employees know about the new policy. I did this in a straightforward letter to all of my employees that told them we would be stopping the sale of all contraceptives. Staying close to my focus, I did not go into reasons in the letter but welcomed any questions they may have regarding the new policy.

A few weeks later I sent a similar letter to all of our customers who had received contraceptives in the last few months.

AC: What kind of reaction are you getting from your employees and customers?

MK: The reactions have been mixed. Some of my employees couldn't believe I was doing this. Customers' reactions were mixed. Many disagreed with my belief, but respected my decision to stand up for something I believed in this strongly.

AC: So you are also getting positive reactions?

MK: The negative reactions definitely outweighed the positive, but I think it is that way most of the time when you run a business; you hear more criticism than praise. I did get a nice card from a customer and some supportive comments from some of my customers and staff. What really keeps me going, though, is knowing that I am trying to do what is right.

AC: Based on previous conversations, this change was a long time in the making. Can you tell us about the process you went through?

About five years ago, I was made aware of how contraceptives work: in some cases killing newly formed life by not allowing it to attach to the mother's uterus. I can't remember ever learning about this in pharmacy school five years earlier, if I had, I wasn't impressed with the significance of it at the time.

When I first realized this was one of the mechanisms of action of the drug, I was not in a position to make a policy change at the pharmacy to stop selling contraceptives, so I spent the next five years in daily prayer asking God to give me direction on what He wanted me to do.

After five years I thought I finally received an answer. It seemed God was asking me to take His hand and jump: I had to stop selling contraceptives one way or another. After bringing up the proposed change once again in the business, the decision was made to go ahead with the policy change.

AC: Is there anywhere in particular where you went to acquire pertinent information (groups, web sites, church documents, etc.)?

MK: Probably the most influential reading I did was directly from the Catholic Church. The Catechism and the encyclicals, namely Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae. Also very important to me was some close friends; friends that not only supported me but challenged me in love to make the right decisions. I also recently joined a local guild of the Catholic Medical Association that put me in touch with like-minded medical professionals from around the area (but no pharmacists). The internet was also very valuable to me. I was able to search for articles (both pro & con), which helped me to fine tune the arguments going on in my own head.

One benefit of this journey was spending a lot of time during the five years leading up to this decision learning more about Christ and his Church, learning to love the authority of the Catholic Church. Learning that what the Church is teaching me is actually what Christ is teaching me.

AC: Where do you think this policy will lead?

MK: I hope it leads me to love God more by trying to do His will. I do know I have to be careful not to think that this is all God is calling me to do. I think everyday He is calling us to do His will. This is just one request along the way.

AC: Do you anticipate fallout?

MK: So far the policy change has not made a big blip on the radar screen. Some of the customers this affects have left, but many have stayed. Our business faces challenges everyday. I think this will just be a small speed bump on the way.

AC: Mike, not all the reaction has been bad. In fact, recently, I saw a newspaper article concerning your decision and others from the Catholic Medical Association. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by the fairness of the article. Has there been much publicity and has it been generally favorable? Do you think God's protection is upon you?

MK: As I mentioned earlier, I tried to be very clear on what my goal was going into this: to stop selling birth control. Other goals might arise later such as education on the problem of artificial birth control, but my primary goal needed to be very clear. As far as publicity, I tried to keep a low profile at first. I knew there was going to be a lot of emotions tied up with this issue from all sides. I didn't want to air out any dirty laundry in the press or on TV. I may take this more public as time goes on and some of the emotions calm down. I will have to see how the Spirit leads me.

As far as God's protection upon me, I think it is. Right after I made the decision to stop selling the contraceptives a close friend warned me that Satan would try to attack me in other areas of my life because he had lost the contraceptive battle. I have been praying to remain strong through any of these struggles that may come my way.

I do know that God will protect me through this. God definitely seemed to be guiding me on the timing of this decision. Without going into all the detail, I had already waited five years to make this decision. Looking back, if I had waited just three more months to make this decision, it very well may not have had the same positive outcome. As time continues to march on, it becomes easier to see how God was in control of this whole process.

AC: Thanks, Mike, for agreeing to this interview. It is my hope that your efforts will be rewarded in many ways, but primarily that your stand will cause other people to be willing to be counter-cultural - especially in the support of God's most precious gift: LIFE.