In a Washington Post article, Rob Stein discusses the trend of some “pharmacists across the country refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs” (Stein 1). In some states, this refusal is legal, but in others, state law forces pharmacists to honor the customer’s right to obtain the medication. In states where law forces pharmacists to respect a woman’s right to birth control or morning-after pill her doctor has prescribed, the consequences of refusal to fill the prescription are very grave. According to Stein, “Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs.” In the most severe cases, pharmacists risk disciplinary action from licensing boards for violating state laws on the issue. Despite these dangers, many pharmacists who believe the use of contraceptives is immoral disobey and not only refuse to fill the prescription, but also refuse to transfer the prescription elsewhere. This is what John Rawls calls an act of civil disobedience: “a public, nonviolent, and conscientious act contrary to law usually done with the intent to bring about a change in the policies or laws of the government” (Rawls).
Though I believe the pharmacists have a right to have a personal belief on the ethics of birth control and the morning-after pill, pharmacists should not have the right to decline filling prescriptions, as this is unfair to others’ moral and ethical beliefs. For an act of civil disobedience to be justified, Rawls says the act must be a last resort, oppose substantial injustice, be fair, and have a good chance of success. Declining to fill a prescription for contraceptives only definitively meets the “last resort” qualification, while arguments could be made for and against this act opposing substantial injustice. Aside from these two qualifications, however, this act of civil disobedience fails to be justified, as it is extremely unfair to prevent a customer’s access to medication for their own personal health. It is an individual’s prerogative to use any drug legal in the United States that is prescribed to them. The user gets to determine the morality and ethics of her decision, not the pharmacist who is simply filling the prescription. Therefore, in the interest of fairness to others’ morals, no pharmacist should have the authority to refuse contraceptives to a customer. The pharmacists’ personal morals and ethics around birth control and the morning-after pill should not play a role. Any such refusal would be a severe infringement on the rights of the customer to use the medication her doctor prescribed. Likewise, pharmacists who disobey laws to fill customers’ prescriptions are preforming an unjustified act of civil disobedience.
Stein, Rob. “Pharmacists’ Rights at Front Of New Debate.” The Washington Post Company 28 Mar. 2005: A01. Print.