Point & Counterpoint

Protecting women’s needs

Imagine for a moment that you are a young woman living in a small rural community, not unlike the ones surrounding Urbana-Champaign or the many more that dot the state and the country. You’ve just had sex with your boyfriend, who was wearing a condom, but it broke (the condom, not the boyfriend).

You are understandably more than a little alarmed. The next day, you go to the nearest pharmacy, which, because you live in a small rural community, isn’t all that near. It is, in fact, the only one in the area.

You ask for the emergency contraception pill, to which the pharmacist on duty replies that he morally objects to distributing emergency contraception EC. He refuses to provide you the pill, leaving you with no practical alternative to prevent a possible unwanted pregnancy.

It’s a pretty scary scenario for a lot of people, but let’s make it even more bleak. Let’s imagine the same scenario, except instead of your boyfriend’s condom breaking, you’ve just been raped.

Examples like this are far from unrealistic. There are any number of communities across the country that don’t have a large number of pharmacies a customer can turn to, and it is in these very communities that one is most likely to find a pharmacist who takes moral exception to providing EC.

It is this kind of scenario that makes Governor Blagojevich’s law requiring pharmacists to provide emergency contraception so important. It is a relief to see that Wal-Mart, the only major pharmacy chain not to stock EC, recently reversed its policy.

To hear that there are those out there who would object to providing EC should immediately raise the eyebrows of anybody who knows how it works. EC, also known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill,” is not the same thing as RU-486, also known as the “abortion pill.”

RU-486 works by expelling eggs that have already been fertilized and implanted in the uterus, meaning that it does terminate pregnancies. EC does not work once implantation has occurred; it only serves to prevent ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. The word “contraception” itself, after all, means something that prevents pregnancy. And if EC prevents pregnancy, it should ultimately prevent abortion, so why isn’t the pro-life crowd rallying behind it?

No matter. Individuals can object to whatever they want, and there is always room for disagreement. The more important argument to be made is that pharmacists simply don’t have any “right” to deny their customers the medical care they need.

If such a right were invented, it would only be a matter of time before it was applied to things other than EC. There is a controversy in our country, highlighted but not originated by Tom Cruise’s memorable interview with Matt Lauer, relating to prescription medication for disorders like depression or attention deficit disorder. Are we to grant a pharmacist the right to overturn a doctor’s order because that pharmacist is of the opinion that too many people are being prescribed antidepressants? Whether that opinion is right or wrong, surely it is a problem to be addressed by doctors and patients, just like EC.

Those who object to emergency contraception are free to not use it all they want. But the last thing women requiring EC need is a pharmacist standing between her and her own well being.

Brian Pierce is a junior in LAS. He thinks poor people should eat their own children. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]

Saving pharmacists’ rights

The issue of Gov. Blagojevich’s new requirement for pharmacists – that those who work in pharmacies that sell contraceptives must dispense them to patients – could be pitted as the governor versus pharmacists.

It could be, but it should not be, because to do so would be to simplify the issue far too much.

It may be said that this issue should not even be open to debate and that those who choose pharmacy as a profession should accept that this means they must abide by certain guidelines. However, to do so would be inconsistent with the Constitution and common practice throughout the United States.

Simply put, pharmacists are objecting to selling emergency contraceptives because it conflicts with their beliefs. We can ignore, for this column, the fact that those backing the governor’s recent ruling forcing pharmacists to engage in what they deem immoral behavior could often be deemed moral relativists. Moral relativism, as seen here, is usually a self-righteous guise under which one’s own morality is forced on others.

Currently, there are 46 states that have a conscience clause for those in the medical profession that refuse to perform abortions. This means that individual providers in these 46 states can, because of religious or moral objections to abortion, cannot be forced to perform one.

Likewise, the government recognizes the right of those who for religious reasons conscientiously object to war to avoid being drafted.

Could one argue that because one enters the medical field, or because one is simply born in America they must accept certain and engage in certain practices they believe to be immoral? No, to do so would be foolish. This is the problem when government laws are viewed as completely arbitrary. Without some type of consistent moral belief system behind a system of law, what logic can be given in support of it? Perhaps an argument from the social contract can be made, but keep in mind that this new requirement was an emergency ruling from the government. It was put before neither the people nor the legislature.

The First Amendment of our Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The second phrase in this short passage is the key one here. The rule requiring pharmacists to sell contraceptives comes into direct contradiction with this phrase. What is this rule but enforcement of a law that violates the right of religious persons to practice their beliefs freely?

Unfortunately, this issue has been spun as one of rights. What a conveniently amorphous catchphrase to use. To not enforce this law would be to restrict the “right” that women have to access contraceptives. The convenient thing about rights is, they can be defined by whoever is talking about them. Also, to speak of rights is to speak of universal truths. Isn’t the mere mention of universal truths some type of sacrilege to the left?

To simply say that pharmacists should concede or change profession, challenges the notion that people are free to pursue whatever religion they want and whatever profession they want. Practices that violate the moral precepts a person holds should not be forced upon them by the government. Not only does this emergency ruling seemingly violate Illinois’ standing right of conscience law, but it pushes government in the dangerous direction of forcing pharmacists to violate their own moral beliefs or abandon their livelihood.

John Ostrowski is a junior in Communications. His column appears on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]