The folks over at BlueOregon are worked up over pharmacists refusing to fill certain prescriptions as a matter of conscience.
This is not the first time the subject has come up on that site, and I always find it interesting to note the outrage when government fails to compel private industry to bend to a specific consumer's will. The sense of entitlement is downright staggering.
Right off the bat, I want to be perfectly clear on a couple of points. First is that I am distinctly pro-choice. Second is that I personally have no moral or philosophical qualms whatsoever about the so-called "Plan B".
So the issues I take with the discussion (so far at the time of this writing, anyhow) are related not in the slightest to freedom of choice. They are related to fundamental disagreements over the proper role of the government in regulating the private sector, and certain "rights" claimed by the author of the piece.
The author, Russell Sadler, starts his reasoning on a very shaky premise:
"For the sake of argument, let’s agree with two principles: (1) No person should be required by law to violate their conscience; (2) every consumer who goes to a pharmacy has a right to have their prescription for any lawful drug filled promptly and without moralizing."
I'm fine with #1, but #2 is where the whole argument falls off the rails. Setting aside the issue of moralizing (I happen to agree but it's only marginally related to the argument) we're left with every consumer having the "right" to promptly purchase any lawful drug from any pharmacy they walk into.
No such right exists now. Nor, in my opinion, should such a right exist.
So while "for the sake of argument" I will concede that the author's premises would lead more-or-less logically to his conclusions -- it would be for the sake of a pretty useless argument. I could as easily say that for the sake of argument, let's agree that women are the legal property of their father or husband -- but no matter how perfectly "logical" the resulting conclusion, it too would be worthless since the premise is faulty.
I happen to have a good friend who is a licensed pharmacist in Oregon. I contacted him to ask a few relevant technical questions, and to get his opinions on the whole issue.
First and foremost, no pharmacy is required by law to stock every possible pharmaceutical that may be included on a legal prescription. So as a practical matter, the "right" to have any legal prescription filled "prompty" by any pharmacy you choose simply does not exist -- the pharmacy in question may not stock the drug you seek, no matter who the specific pharmacist on duty might be.
But then Sadler discards the notion of regulating individual pharmacists anyhow, and boldly asserts another government mandate:
"The State of Oregon’s responsibility is to assure that any legal prescription will be promptly filled."
Which he suggests would best be enforced by regulating the business (pharmacy) rather than the individual (pharmacist). Again, a practical impossibility. The state can not possibly truly ensure that any legal prescription can be promptly filled in any location in the state no matter what. And even if it could, why should it be the state's responsibility to do so?
I have a legal right to purchase furniture for my home, for example -- should the state compel all furniture stores to be ready and able to provide any piece of furniture I desire? After all, if I'm unable to walk out of the store that very day with exactly my choice of leather recliner (don't dare try to tell me that an upright chair with a firm back would be better for my spine -- hands off my body, you fascist!), then haven't my personal rights been infringed?
Better yet, I have a legal right to purchase firearms (assuming, of course, I've filled out all the proper registration forms, waited for the appropriate period before the purchase, etc.) Hell, the right to bear arms is actually explicitly enshrined in the constitution and not just "implied" (and a mythical "right to meds" isn't even that strong).
So should the State of Oregon therefore also compel all private gun stores within its borders to be ready and able to sell me any legal firearm at any time? After all, anything (or anyone) that gets between me and my weapon of choice is clearly an infringement of my civil rights.
Rhetorical questions, of course. The assertion that just because a person is not legally proscribed from doing something (e.g., having a legal prescription filled, or as previously discussed, getting a sex-change operation) therefore the state has an obligation to ensure that the person is able to do that thing, including (if necessary) compelling private parties to assist in doing that thing, is frankly absurd.
Of course the real issue of concern expressed in that thread is not whether government should make pharmacies provide any drug at any time. It's an assertion that any practical restriction by any private party on a woman's ability to obtain whatever form of contraception or abortion she desires, demands a remedy from the state. What if, by the way, the woman is unable to afford her prescription? Must the state pay for it? If she is unable to drive herself to the nearest ready & willing pharmacy in a "prompt" manner, must the state transport her?
Of course, there's also the implied assertion that pharmacists, by virtue of being involved in the health care field, aren't really "private" parties to begin with. It's an extension of the "health care is a fundamental human right" philosophy, but that's a topic for a whole other discussion.
Some commenters claim that Plan B is an alternative to abortion -- thus, "logically", those who are anti-abortion should embrace Plan B as a responsible way to avoid having an abortion. (Also, that since contraception has been available for decades, all pharmacists knew what they were getting into when they made that career choice).
Per my pharmacist friend -- Plan B does not necessarily prevent fertilization. Thus, it is techically accurate to claim that Plan B may in fact involve what is essentially a very early-term abortion ("may" because there may not be a fertilized egg involved, in which case Plan B would not have been necessary in the first place). The argument that Plan B is a responsible way to avoid an abortion holds no weight with those who care about such things. In fact, the very term "emergency contraception" is a bit of a misnomer, as "contraception" would prevent conception in the first place, and Plan B does not always do that.
Ultimately, for me, what it all boils down to is this: a private sector business should be able to make its own decisions about its internal policies regarding customer service. If a pharmacy decides as a policy to require all pharmacists to fill prescriptions for Plan B, then that pharmacy should be able to terminate employees who refuse that condition of employment. But likewise, if a pharmacy decides as a policy to allow each pharmacist the freedom to choose which drugs he or she will refuse to dispense, then it's none of the state's business.
By the way, one commenter suggested starting a web site with information about specific pharmacists/pharmacies and their respective policies regarding Plan B prescriptions. That seems like an entirely appropriate market approach to the issue. I'm all for consumers being able to make their purchasing decisions with as much information as possible, and allowing the market to "punish" those pharmacies/pharmacists who are truly out of line.