By Diana Hsieh
The Illinois Supreme Court last month gave pro-life pharmacists a victory when it determined that they can proceed with their lawsuit seeking to overturn a mandate Gov. Rod Blagojevich put in place. The governor's order makes them fill all prescriptions, including those for the morning after pill. The pharmacists objected to being forced to fill orders for the drug on both moral and religious grounds and because the Plan B drug can sometimes cause an abortion. The state's high court said the religious objections of pro-life health professionals must be considered by the Illinois courts and sent the case back to the trial court.(I found this story via the ever-useful iFeminists.net news service.)
By any rational definition, pregnancy begins with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall, not fertilization. That's because the significant biological changes to the woman associated with pregnancy begin with implantation, not fertilization. Moreover, starting pregnancy at fertilization would have bizarre implications. For example, a woman undergoing IVF would be pregnant while her fertilized egg remained in the lab, before it was ever implanted in her womb. So pregnancy does begin at implantation, and any method of preventing that implantation is rightly regarded as birth control, not abortion.
Nonetheless, in a free society, pharmacists should have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their moral principles -- whether those principles are right or wrong. They should not be required by law to become the slave of anyone with a script. Correspondingly, pharmacies should not be held in thrall to the whims of their pharmacists: they should have the absolute right to fire a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription.
Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute offers a similar view in commenting on the Bush administration's attempt to shield anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive doctors from being fired for refusing to deliver such services this past summer. He writes:
This is the kind of political infighting that's inevitable when doctors, hospitals, and patients are denied freedom of contract. Such moral questions have no place in the political arena. Instead, the law should recognize each individual's right to deal, or refuse to deal, with others on a voluntary basis.You can find more on that particular federal-level controversy in this PWG post.
For example, a doctor has the right to refuse an employment offer from a Catholic hospital that forbids contraceptives and abortions. But if he takes the job, he has no right to force the hospital to abandon its religious taboos and allow him to perform abortions. Likewise, a hospital has the right to hire only those doctors willing to prescribe contraception and provide abortions. If one of those doctors refuses to perform such services on moral grounds, he must take the contractual consequences.
Patients have the same rights as doctors and hospitals to set their own terms of trade. A pregnant woman contemplating abortion has the right to seek treatment at a hospital whose doctors are unencumbered by religious superstitions about ensoulment at conception. But if that hospital denies her admission, she has no right to demand that the Catholic hospital down the street abort her fetus.
The correct path out of the 'conscience controversy' over abortions and contraceptives is not to adopt new regulations creating 'provider conscience rights.' The solution is for government to recognize and protect the individual rights of all participants in the health-care system. Doctors, hospitals, and patients should be allowed to deal with each other by voluntary agreement, with government's only role to enforce contracts and prevent fraud.