Missouri "abortifacient" bill both wrong and wrong

Disingenuous proposal reinforces misconceptions about women, contraception and abortion.

Published February 20, 2008 2:42PM (EST)

Well, clearly they've fixed everything else in Missouri, as lawmakers there are now able to turn their attention to fatuous bills addressing pretend situations. The recently introduced HB 1625 would -- contrary to the position of the Food and Drug Administration and virtually the entire medical community -- classify emergency contraception (as in Plan B) as an "abortifacient." It would also allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense both Plan B and RU-486 (mifepristone), shielding them from any resulting legal action.

Where do we start?

1. Pharmacies don't dispense RU-486 in the first place. You get it from your doctor. This is disingenuous.

2. Pharmacies don't dispense anything. Pharmacists do. As NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri's executive director, attorney Pamela L. Sumners, notes: Pharmacies are corporations, not individuals with "consciences" or "conscience rights." Solid precedent holds that nonsectarian private companies "do not have 'religious' views that are entitled to legal protection." (See United States v. Lee, 1982.) Were the bill to pass, Missouri would join Mississippi as the only state to extend "conscience protection" to pharmacies, conferring the broad right to opt out of dispensing emergency contraception without outlining any grounds for doing so. The wholesale opt-out would be unenforceable at best.

3. The bill may also violate Missouri's Human Rights Act, which forbids discrimination based on sex, and possibly even Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It's a bad, bad bill, politically and legally. Too bad to become reality? Maybe, maybe not. And it's hard to see how the reproductive-rights situation can get much worse in Missouri to begin with. Still, we can't dismiss this bill as harmless grandstanding. Why not? Well, it's like when a courtroom lawyer says "[question] withdrawn" or a judge asks for something to be stricken from the record. Either way, the jury still hears it. And in this case, what people hear is:

1. Emergency contraception and RU-486 are the same (sic).

2. Women can get abortions, along with mouthwash and Milk Duds, at their local Walgreens (sic).

All of which plays into -- and reinforces -- the frequently peddled notion that women need reining in, as does our alleged qwik-abortion culture. It all adds up, even drop by drop, and helps cement public perception. So even if those misconceptions don't actually get this bill passed, the damage, in no small part, will still be done.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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