One of the most disturbing pieces of news to come out of the new religious-right renaissance is the trend of pharmacists denying drugs to customers. Most of us don't think of pharmacists as well-educated specialists anymore. Maybe that's the problem - they're feeling underappreciated. I think the trend of seeing pharmacists work alongside 16-year olds in Eckerd and CVS has helped, along with new drug marketing that has encouraged us to treat our doctors' offices like drive-thru McDrugstores. In reality, they're highly-paid, highly-trained walking encyclopedias of pharmaceutical information and they exist to protect us from phony doctors, inadvertent drug interactions, and ourselves. It's a credit to their profession, really, that we've forgotten so much of what they do.
Until now. Now they are on the front lines of a religious war. A war which has long since consumed our school boards and our televisions. Now pharmacists are exercising their "religious freedom" to deny their customers access to birth control pills and morning-after pills. Forget the fact that abortion is not murder. Forget the fact that taking the morning-after pill is not even abortion (it prevents fertilization). Think about pharmacists not filling birth-control prescriptions unless the customer brings in a marriage certificate. Even the Pope (may he rest in peace) never equated birth control to murder in any way. He only disallowed it for religious reasons.
And this is why this trend is so scary. If this debate were limited to abortion, I understand that many people think it is murder. But when you allow pharmacists to not only refuse to fill a prescription but refuse to give it back on the grounds of religious belief alone, you open the door to nightmare scenarios. Imagine you are involved in a car accident in the middle of the night and the only emergency room doctor is a Jehovah's Witness who doesn't believe in blood transfusions. Imagine this doctor decides it would be against his or her religion to give you one and you die in the hospital, the blood that could have saved your life only inches away? Or imagine that your father suffers a heart attack, but the ambulance driver is a Christian Scientist who decides not to drive you to the hospital because taking you to receive medical treatment is against his religion.
I'm not vilifying Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Scientists (except Christian Scientists who, because of their beliefs, allow their children to die without medical treatment). But what makes you think that if we allow one wacko pharmacist to deny emergency contraception to a customer because of his religion, we won't allow other people to do the same? One freakshow columnist in Tucson, AZ compares a pharmacy to a bookstore in that nobody disputes the right of a bookstore to not sell certain books. That might be the case if I ever had an emergency need for a book (Harry Potter notwithstanding). Pharmacists have no "right to choose" any more than a doctor can choose to not treat a patient, any more than the DMV can decide they don't want to renew your license, any more than the volunteer at the polling station can decide not to let you vote. If you don't want to dispense birth control, don't be a pharmacist. Thankfully, despite the fact that 11 states are considering "conscience clauses" allowing pharmacists to deny service, there are some brave politicians willing to stand up to the religious intifada. Democratic governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois have (temporarily) stopped this practice in their states and Congress is considering a law to prevent it. Don't let the religious wing take over America. Seeing less of Janet Jackson isn't worth the loss of our fundamental freedoms.