Religion Gets In Way Of Pharmacists' Duties

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

March 30, 2005

John Plantz, owner of the Timberlake Drugstore, has never refused to fill a prescription because of his religious beliefs. But not every pharmacist is like him.

More and more pharmacists across the nation are acting as gatekeepers of certain drugs, specifically the Plan B morning-after pill, because they deem it unethical.

Becky Reid from Planned Parenthood says this is wrong.

"Refusing to provide women with medically prescribed contraception is just bad policy. And the fact that there are pharmacists out there that are refusing to dispense emergency contraception really underscores the purpose of making emergency contraception more widely available," said Reid.

In a Planned Parenthood survey, most Charlottesville-Albemarle pharmacies dispensed the pill, compared to only half in the Waynesboro area. One particular pharmacist cited religious reasons for his refusal to dispense the pill.

John Whitehead from the Rutherford Institute says, under federal law, businesses can't discriminate against employees for their religious beliefs. "The 1964 Civil Rights Act, under Title 7 of that law, it says very clearly that employers must accommodate religious beliefs of an employee, unless it causes undue hardship," Whitehead cited.

Undue hardship can be defined as severe economic loss. Most likely, large pharmacies would not suffer from undue hardship because they can find other pharmacists who are willing to dispense the pill.

But this is not the case with small pharmacies with only one pharmacist and small towns with only one pharmacy, thereby limiting options for women with a Plan B prescription.

"If there is not another pharmacy around, then I think the pharmacist needs to overcome his convictions and do what is right for the patient," said Plantz.

The FDA is considering offering the morning-after pill over the counter, making it certain the debate will intensify.

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