Pro-life pharmacies

As if it weren't enough to refuse to dispense contraceptives, a growing number of drugstores won't even stock them.

Published June 17, 2008 7:45PM (EDT)

We've all heard about pharmacists refusing to dispense contraceptives because doing so goes against their religious beliefs. But according to the Washington Post, there's a new type of drugstore in town, one that preempts the pharmacists' objections by refusing to stock any form of contraception to begin with.

They're called pro-life pharmacies, and while their numbers are still small, they're on the rise.

The article features one in particular, DMC Pharmacy (short for "Divine Mercy Care"), scheduled to open this summer on Route 50 in Chantilly, Va. Packed into a shopping plaza along with a Ruby Tuesday, a Papa John's and a Kmart, the pharmacy will have all your normal offerings, except for condoms, birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive. One lawyer, currently involved in defending a pharmacist who was fined and reprimanded for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions, is quoted as justifying the development this way: "The United States was founded on the idea that people act on their conscience -- that they have a sense of right and wrong and do what they think is right and moral ... Every pharmacist has the right to do the same thing."

True, I do have the right to act on my conscience and not choose, for example, to work as a defense lawyer protecting people's "right" not to do their jobs. But the point of being a pharmacist isn't, as these people seem to think, to play God. It's to fill prescriptions. (In an ironic twist, some of the very same pharmacies that won't dispense birth control have no moral qualms about Viagra.) A garbage collector can't refuse to pick up beer bottles for recycling because he or she believes that drinking is wrong, just as toll collectors can't block people from getting on the highway because they're morally opposed to driving -- at least not if they want to keep their jobs. Stories like this get me worked up to the point that I feel like suggesting that these pharmacists (and, apparently, the people running pharmacies) leave the drugstore business and devote themselves to opening up free day-care centers next door.

I could go on, pointing out the damage that could be done if these pharmacies become widespread, potentially creating entire communities where birth control isn't available. We could talk about the morality of rape victims being turned away when trying to get emergency contraception (thus wasting potentially crucial time) or instances in which pharmacists have not only refused to fill prescriptions but confiscated them from the women so that they couldn't fill them elsewhere. And that's just femalecontraception -- what about products for males? (Many of these pharmacies don't even provide information on where else people can turn for contraception -- as one pharmacist quoted by the Post put it, "If I don't believe something is right, the last thing I want to do is refer to someone else ... It's up to that person to be able to find it.")

For anyone arguing that these pharmacists are simply answering the question "What would Jesus do?" I suggest checking out, an online Christian sex shop that offers condoms, lubricants, a "Strip Chocolate" game and "Screaming O Bullet" waterproof vibrators, among many other products. Yes, the products are intended for married couples only (inspired by the Song of Solomon, Book22's goal is to help people remain "sexually pure" by helping their marriages remain satisfying), and come with their pornographic packaging removed (or with naughty bits covered by a sticker). But its founders guide their business decisions by prayer, and it seems that Jesus gives them quite different answers from the ones he's providing to the pro-life pharmacists. As co-founder Joy Wilson explained in an interview with NPR, "We pray about things before we add them to our site. We live our lives very openly in front of Jesus, so we just kind of pray for direction about which way he would have us go, and I have to be honest with you -- he's really surprised us ... Almost our whole entire 'special order' page has come from that."

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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