Let’s say you own a grocery store. Because you think smoking is an unhealthy habit, you make the decision that your store shouldn’t sell cigarettes or other tobacco-related products. However, you happen live in a state where a lot of people choose to smoke. Because smokers have a lot of political clout, they convince the state legislature that their “right” to buy cigarettes supersedes your right as a store owner to choose which products to sell. In response, the legislature passes a law that says every grocery store in the state must sell cigarettes and other tobacco products – even if the store owner has personal or moral objections to selling them.
What if you decide to sell tobacco products but have an employee that finds smoking or using tobacco immoral and refuses to sell them when customers ask to purchase them? Should you be able to fire the employee or should his religious or moral beliefs supplant your right to sell legal products to customers?
In a perfect world most people would recognize that the law passed in the first example is tyrannical and would be outraged that a store would be forced to sell a product the owner finds objectionable.
In the second example most people would realize no one has a right to a job; therefore, if an employee objects to a product that a business sells, the employee is free to find work elsewhere.
Sadly, we live in a time when most people choose to be victims and believe that when one of their “rights” has been violated they should be able to force their supposed rights on others via laws, regulations, or judicial fiat. When that happens, you get laws like the one that went into effect this week in Washington state that pits the rights of drugstore owners, employees, and consumers against each other.
The new state regulation requires drugstores and pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives, also know as the “morning-after pills,” despite drugstore owners' or pharmacists' objections to dispensing them. Under the new requirements, pharmacists with personal objections to any drug can opt out by getting a co-worker to fill an order so long as the patient didn’t have to come back for a repeat visit. Drugstores and pharmacists who don’t comply with the new regulations could possibly lose their license.
In a truly free society, such regulations wouldn’t be necessary. Consumers would realize that there is no “right” to emergency contraceptives just like there’s no right to purchase bananas, chewing gum, or tobacco. Just because a store refuses to carry a product, it doesn’t mean consumers can’t find what they’re looking for elsewhere and are free to patronize stores that carry the products they want. Even if every pharmacy in the state of Washington refused to carry emergency contraceptives, there’s nothing stopping someone from starting his or her own pharmacy in order to dispense emergency contraceptives to those who want them.
Pharmacists would realize that there’s no “right” to a job. Those who have religious, moral, or other objections to filling prescriptions for emergency contraceptives aren’t being forced to “choose between their livelihood and their moral beliefs.” They can talk to their employer, explain their concerns, and find some other way to do their job but still follow the wishes of the store owner to sell a product. If they’re unable to come to an agreement with their employer, they’re also free to seek employment at another pharmacy that doesn’t carry emergency contraceptives or start their own store where they aren’t forced to sell products they find objectionable.
Only the rights of the drugstores are truly being violated. Owners are not only being forced to stock a product they may not want on their shelves but they’re also put in a position where they must make special accommodations to employees who don’t want to sell a legal product or be prepared for a lengthy court battle if they choose to fire them.
The Washington state emergency contraceptives regulation is simply the result of political pressure to give a “right” to buy a product to those who will keep elected politicians in power when no such right exists. The regulation isn’t even necessary considering state law already allows the pill to be distributed to adults without a prescription. Even the Washington State Pharmacy Association noted that it’s rare that pharmacies refuse to fill these prescriptions. But under pressure from the governor and lawmakers, the pharmacy board decided the “rights” of those seeking emergency contraceptives supersede the rights of everyone else.
The new regulation is currently being challenged in federal court by a pharmacy owner and two pharmacists. It will be left to the courts to decide whose “rights” are more important than others. Sadly, history has shown us that when judges are involved in sorting out rights, Constitutional rights tend to be eroded and new rights created out of thin air.
A little understanding of true Constitutional rights and the free market from consumers, employees, politicians, and government busybodies would go a long way into settling this dispute without involving state government or the courts.
The courts should simply throw out the proposed regulation and let drugstores, employees, and consumers work out a solution that benefits everyone. It’s the price to be paid if we want to live in a truly free society.