Birth control it seems, has come out of the bedroom and into the public forum. Four former pharmacists are suing their former employer, a Walgreens store in Edwardsville, Ill., after they were fired for refusing to sign a pledge guaranteeing to sell the morning after pill. The pharmacists claim they were fired on religious grounds, because their religious views were what prompted them to refuse the pledge.
Televangelist Pat Robertson and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., who have long been vocal on birth control issues, are both supporting the employees.
When reading their statements and opinions, one must wonder, are these people serious? Birth control is a fundamental right and a barrier (literally) protecting the liberties of American citizens.
Perhaps most students reading this believe opinions like Santorum’s are rare. But these were four pharmacists working at one Walgreens in a small town in Illinois – a supposedly liberal state. How many pharmacists nationwide hold these beliefs?
The Bush administration is also active in limiting access to birth control. It hopes to change the funding for sex education by equalizing the spending on birth control and abstinence education, begging the question, will “Stay-virgin-forever Saturdays” eventually replace “Free condom Wednesdays?”
Santorum – who made his views on the subject clear last year when he called birth control another form of abortion – proposed a bill last April called the Workplace Religious Freedom Act aimed at clarifying the religious rights the fired pharmacists claim were violated. The bill would allow a pharmacist to refuse the sale of birth control and the morning after pill on moral or religious grounds. The pharmacist may only refuse the prescription, however, if another pharmacist, one who does not have these “respectable moral values,” is on duty.
But how is this going to work? What if there was an influx of pharmacists into the field who possess these “higher” moral values? Would work schedules have to be generated in observance of religious values? Will Pat Robertson-clone pharmacists now have to be paired with pharmacists who believe in the right to privacy and freedom?
Unfortunately for pharmacies everywhere, it appears scheduling like this may become necessary to avoid the type of lawsuit Walgreens is facing right now.
And where might restrictions such as this lead? If pharmacists can refuse to sell birth control, will others have this ability, too? Santorum’s bill was not created just for pharmacists, so anyone, in any profession, could justify the restriction of someone else’s rights on moral or religious grounds. This is like saying animal rights activists working in a clothing store will have the right to refuse the sale of leather. Or that a teacher can refuse to teach evolution. It is like saying that a retail clerk has the right to not sell condoms, cigarettes or alcohol, or that a clerk at Hy-Vee can refuse the sale of high-calorie foods because he or she is disgusted by the moral implications of obesity. Of course the customer trying to buy these goods could always get them eventually by going to another clerk, but the embarrassment and time consumed by calling another clerk over would be unnecessary.
Maybe these evangelical pharmacists should re-examine their professional choices. If they’re not going to prescribe the correct drugs to help those in need, why are they in the profession?
Or perhaps they should just take the view of this posting on Perspectives.com: “I don’t oppose the ‘Dems and Libbos’ having abortions. Think about it. They are voluntarily taking themselves out of the gene pool. Eventually, respect for life, for law, for values and common sense will return.”
Disgusting and unlikely as it is, if this philosophy was adopted, American citizens and women in general would be able to protect themselves, their lives and the right to use birth control at their own discretion.
Jackie Nielsen is a student at Iowa State University.