Hassle Free Tyranny

Pharmacies and Our Religious Freedom

Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

Since 1991, “BreakPoint” has been telling you about the steady erosion of our religious freedom. That freedom is increasingly being limited to what goes on even inside our churches or inside our heads. Well, earlier this month, another chunk was taken out of our religious freedom, and then, as before, Christians have been all too quiet.

Across the country, many pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives: “the pill” and the so-called “morning-after pill.” For instance, many Catholic pharmacists will not dispense “the pill” because they believe that it would violate their conscience and their Church’s teaching.

Other pharmacists draw the line at the “morning-after pill,” which causes a spontaneous abortion. Like Karen Brauer of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, they refuse to participate in the “killing [of] humans at any stage of development.” They agree with Brauer that “if women really want this drug, they are going to have to find a willing provider.”

This seems reasonable, especially in areas where there are several pharmacies within a few minutes of each other. But it’s not enough for the folks at Planned Parenthood. When a pharmacist in downtown Chicago refused to fill a prescription, they organized a protest, despite the fact that women in the area have many alternatives. What right was being violated? In the words of the Chicago Tribune, it was the “right to access contraceptives without a hassle.”

This so-called “right” would be comical except for what happened next: Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich issued an “emergency rule” that required pharmacies to “accept and fill prescriptions for contraceptives without delay.” In addition, he set up a toll-free number for reporting pharmacists who refuse.

Playing Charlie McCarthy to NARAL’s Edgar Bergen, Blagojevich called the refusals “part and parcel of a larger campaign,” noting that similar things are happening “all across the country.”

Yes, Mr. Governor, conscience, especially religiously informed conscience, is funny that way. If a Christian in Chicago thinks that something is morally suspect, chances are that Christians in Indiana and Colorado will, too. Noting similarities and parroting NARAL’s conspiratorial rhetoric doesn’t change the fact that Governor Blagojevich trampled the religious freedom of pharmacists in order to protect the “right” of women to get a prescription filled “without a hassle.”

Events like those in Illinois have prompted legislatures in thirteen states to consider giving pharmacists the same “conscience-clause” rights that doctors have. But four other states and Democrats in Congress are proposing legislation similar to Blagojevich’s order. These bills would explicitly give a patient’s “convenience” priority over a pharmacist’s “religious or moral” convictions.

The disregard and contempt for religious freedom in these proposals is breathtaking. “Religious freedom” that is limited to an hour on Sunday and private thoughts is no freedom at all. There is a word for government that forces people to do what their consciences condemn: tyranny.

That’s why Christians must unite to protect “conscience-clause” rights of pharmacists everywhere. If we don’t speak up for the pharmacists, the next chunk of freedom taken away will be ours.

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