Point: What Part of EC Don't You Understand?

NOVEMBER 01, 2006
Robert Tendler, RPh

As pharmacists across the country continue fighting for recognition of our professional status and the ability to utilize our educational expertise to enter into collaborative practices, a band of religious zealots threatens to set our profession back to the dark ages.

Using the new availability of Plan B as their battleground, they claim the cloak of conscience to impose a set of personal religious beliefs on any women they might be in a position to dominate.

In 1998, on the floor of the annual convention of the American Pharmacists Association, a group of antiabortion activists attempted to engineer, under the banner of "moral grounds," their dictates about who should become a parent. Had they succeeded in their efforts, they would have overturned and revoked the oath that decades of pharmacists have sworn to—the same oath I swore to. That oath did not give me the right to pick and choose which prescriptions I should fill or which patients I should embarrass and abuse based on my personal religious beliefs.

I recall the position I took at that 1998 convention. The personal choice to not fill a prescription for an AIDS patient might have resulted in the kinds of AIDS dilemmas facing third world countries today. It would have interfered with the development of antiretrovirals that are saving lives today in the United States.

It is amazing that a majority of pharmacists seeking to impose their consciences on patients do not know that emergency contraception (EC), depending on the time in the menstrual cycle in which it is taken, may simply delay or inhibit ovulation, interfere with fertilization, or prevent implantation.

If those pharmacists cannot participate in the sale of a product that has the potential to prevent more than 800,000 abortions a year, can those pharmacists truly call themselves pro-life?

Virtually all major medical and health care organizations supported making EC available without a prescription. These so-called pharmacy moralists lobbied to have state laws passed to discriminate against all women, but especially against young, low-income women.

I say "no" to conscience clauses. I call on pharmacists to display compassion and the perfect morality that comes by serving our patients with regard and respect for individual needs and beliefs.

Mr. Tendler is a consultant pharmacist for RX Care, a past president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, a recipient of the Bowl of Hygeia Award, and a past president of Pharmacists for Choice.

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