Sunday, 16 January 2011

So-called "Conscience Clauses"

I could write for hours about people who oppose abortion. I could talk about a woman's right to choose. I could debate when the contents of a woman's uterus transform from being a cluster of cells to being a potential human being. I could lament the plight of women in countries such as Ireland, who - in 2011 - still have no real access to abortion. But I won't.

Today I'd like to talk about Americans on the religious right who oppose abortion. At no point would I call them "pro-life" - they've shown themselves to be utterly undeserving of the title, with at least seven murders and many other acts of terrorism directly attributable to the ideology in the past 18 years alone, not to mention the sickening case of a nun who was excommunicated for allowing a life-saving abortion to be performed on a mother-of-four (a decision which was explained by Bishop Thomas J Olmsted saying "An unborn child is not a disease … the end does not justify the means").

Specifically, I'd like to talk about pharmacists and 'conscience clauses'. Conscience clauses allow pharmacists to opt out of filling a prescription if their (more often than not religious) beliefs mean that they don't want to. It emerged this week that a pharmacist in Idaho refused to fill out a life-saving prescription for a woman who was suffering from heavy uterine bleeding, because the nurse on the phone refused to inform the pharmacist whether the woman had had an abortion or a miscarriage. The pharmacist also hung up the phone when asked for a reference to another pharmacy who would give the prescription. Completely ignoring the fact that it would be illegal for the nurse to have told the pharmacist what had happened to the woman, what was going on in this pharmacist's mind? Would the woman have only deserved to live if she had had a miscarriage? How this case could even come under the conscience clause is baffling - if an abortion had taken place, the 'damage' was already done. All the pharmacist was being asked to dispense was a drug to control bleeding.

Thankfully, this case took place in a large city, and a humane pharmacist was found to fill out the prescription. There is, however, reams of anecdotal evidence of the morning-after pill being refused to people who live in isolated areas and can't access another pharmacist, and even of pharmacists refusing to fill out the prescription for rape victims (and since these prescriptions will have come from the hospital, they know what they are doing).

I find it abhorrent that people can use their belief in an imaginary sky-pixie to justify refusing to do their job properly, to infringe on women's rights to prescribed medication and to obviously and clearly cast moral judgement upon others.

As Louis Kronenberger said: "[t]here seems to be a terrible misunderstanding on the part of a great many people to the effect that when you cease to believe you may cease to behave". Well, I have moral standards too. Because of these moral standards, I do not join the army, as I don't want to kill humans. I do not work in an abbatoir, as I don't want to kill animals. I do not work as a Tory MP because I don't want to kill the NHS, or public services (I can go on, but I won't).

So, my polite suggestion to people who are so wrapped up in their warped, misogynistic viewpoint that they want to restrict medication to women who need it is thus:

Don't be a pharmacist


  1. You're absolutely right. As a pharmacist, their job is to dispense drugs. They are paid to do it.

    Unfortunetly, I don't know the background to the history of the "concsious clause" but agreed, it's total crap. Hypocritical, really. Who is the woman behind the counter to say who lives and dies if the woman who is trying to abort her pregnancy can't. It's all about hierarchies and these "concious" people genuinely believing they are better than others.

    Fortunately enough, neither myself or any woman I know has ever been denied a Plan B, etc- but I tell you this, if any of my girlfriends EVER came to me and told me their birth control or plan B was being denied all hell would break loose. Pharmacist would not know what hit her/him. I'm talking calling authorities, news, publicly outing whatever mightier than though church they probably belong to. The only way to make change is to make noise; if they can't hear us, we seem complacent. And that is not okay.

  2. Don't get me started on the squadders of the gods...