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Whose Rights Should Prevail?

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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.

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About Abel Keogh

  • you entire argument is completely fallacious due ot being built on a false premise

    nice try in attempting to conflate tobacco with a doctor’s written prescription

    here’s why you are totally wrong

    you need a Pharmacy license, issued by the state, in order to run a pharmacy, this is due to handling controlled substances and public safety concerns

    this license says you have to fill the prescriptions sent to you by a physician

    NOT the ones you like, or agree with, or feel are moral..or anything else…the ones a Doctor writes, you have to fill for the patient…period

    those are the terms of the license, don’t like it…don’t be a pharmacist

    just that fucking simple, don’t let the bullshit or smoke and mirrors distract you from the facts

    state license means following the rules and laws of the state, YOU don’t get to decide…the Law has and you agreed to follow said law when you got the license

    /end bullshit alert


  • Baronius

    Well-articulated article, Abel.

  • Clavos

    gonzo #1:

    I’m not so sure about the point that the pharmacist MUST fill out every prescription presented to him/her. Here’s why:

    First, a caveat; perhaps the pharmacy laws have some variation from state to state; I don’t know.

    Here’s my point, which is based on a true personal anecdote:

    Our pharmacist (at a national chain drugstore) recently refuse to fill out a prescription my wife had received from one of her doctors on the grounds that it had been prescribed in violation of the manufacturer’s instructions. His specific objection was that the drug is not supposed to be taken for more than 5 days at a time, and the doctor had written the script for a 30 day supply of daily use.

    I knew about the 5 day limit (if taken longer, it can take out your kidneys and liver), and had questioned the Dr. myself about it – twice.

    Reluctantly I had accepted the dr.’s judgment, and had taken the srcipt to be filled. At that point, my wife had already taken the drug for three weeks, and the pharmacist knew that. I asked the pharmacist to call the doctor for verification, and his response was that, if he were to dispense the prescription as written, knowing what he knows about the dangers of it, even though the Dr. had ordered it that way, he (the pharmacist) could be held responsible if my wife should die from it.

    I took the script to another pharmacy to get it filled.

    I don’t know if he was BSing me, but I wasn’t willing to fight him about it.

    My wife hasn’t died yet.

  • Clavos..what you are talking about is a pharmacist correctly following the rules and regulations pertaining to his license, and correcting a mistake made by a doctor UNDER THE LAW

    the entirety of this Article is NOT about that, but about a pharmacist placing not legal or medical considerations, but their own opinion, ABOVE that of a medical practitioner and failing to fill a LEGAL prescription

    THAT is against the license you need to operate as a pharmacist all across our nation…look it up, i have

    see the difference?


  • Clavos

    No, because the Dr. wasn’t making a mistake; he was deliberately prescribing the meds with full knowledge of the possible results, and the prescription WAS legal.

    Your original point was:

    “this license says you have to fill the prescriptions sent to you by a physician”


    “a pharmacist placing not legal or medical considerations, but their own opinion, ABOVE that of a medical practitioner and failing to fill a LEGAL prescription”

    The second pharmacist (who DID fill it) warned me about the complications, but didn’t hesitate to fill it.

    I’m not so sure, as I said, that in Florida at least, a pharmacist HAS to fill a script if he/she doesn’t want to.

  • Clavos…you yourself stated that it was against the manufacturers directions

    this in itself warrants at least a consultation between pharmacist and physician…which IS covered under the law since pharmacists are specialists in tthe medications and routinely check for possible bad interactions an dside effects

    all of this is based on MEDICAL considerations, NOT personal opinion about the theoretical morality of dispensing the Rx

    see the difference here?


  • Clavos

    “Clavos…you yourself stated that it was against the manufacturers directions

    this in itself warrants at least a consultation between pharmacist and physician…which IS covered under the law since pharmacists are specialists in tthe medications and routinely check for possible bad interactions an dside effects”

    I agree that it warranted a consultation; and, as I said, I asked for one, but the pharmacist refused, in a manner that left no doubt (at least in my mind) that he felt he was legally able to do so. And I’m not intimidated by doctors, much less a pharmacist.

    As I said, I don’t know if he was BSing me or not. But, Florida is kind of a maverick state, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a pharmacist could legally refuse to fill a script for any number of reasons.

  • for medical reasons sure…covering his ass against possible liability is allowed in most states statutes

    but not for “moral” reasons

    let’s look at the same scenario, but twist it a bit

    down south a KKK member owns a pharmacy, and refuses to fill an RX for insulin for a Jew, or a black person…

    get it now?

    this is a simple case of someone , for their own reasons based on their religious viewpoints, refusing to follow the strictures of their license to operate…

    in either the case of a medical disagreement, or a cases like the one under discussion, the licensing authority can be notified to rule on it…and in EVERY case so far…they have ruled that the pharmacist has to fill a legal script written by a doctor

    so, i am fine in letting it play out with due process, but i’m not too happy with some folks thinking they can impose their morals via medicine or healthcare

    what’s next…some Fundamentalist not filling prescriptions for the damned unless they get born again?

    there’s a reason for the laws and regulations about equal access to healthcare

    how about a Muslim pharmacist not filling prescriptions for “infidels”?

    on and on


  • Clavos

    How would you feel about a Muslim not selling a suit to an infidel? Or a car?

  • a suit or a car are NOT state licensed activities involving healthcare

    your analogy fails thew test of basic logic, same as this Article

    see..cigarrettes, a car,a suit…that’s one thing

    but healthcare is another…a consumer product falls under “management reserves the right to refuse service”

    i have no problem with that

    but healthcare providers who NEED a state license to operate HAVE TO follow the provisions of said license



  • Clavos

    Actually, car selling is state licensed activity (at least here, as are boats – I have to have a yacht sales license); in fact most businesses must have licenses of some kind to do business.

    It is ILLEGAL to refuse to sell ANYTHING to ANYONE for racial, religious, or national origin reasons, which is why I set up that hypothetical.

    Therefore, it REALLY DOESN’T MATTER what the laws specifically applying to pharmacists say; the pharmacist can’t refuse to sell anything (even Playboy, except to a minor in some states) for religious reasons, it’s religious discrimination.

  • /sigh

    again, i stand behind the age old “management reserves the right…”

    but also state that when it comes to healthcare, and the VERY specific licenses involved (doctors, nurses, pharmacists)..a much more stringent standard is inherent

    a restaurant is within it’s rights to enforce a dress code….a hospital is not

    can’t make it any more clear


  • Clavos

    “again, i stand behind the age old “management reserves the right…”

    I don’t.

    No one should have the right to discriminate against anybody for religious, racial, national origin or sex reasons. No one and nobody. Period.

    And if a restaurant can have a dress code that has nothing to do with the healthfulness of the place, why should a hospital not be able to do so, too?

    “Ladies nights” at bars should be illegal too.

  • i tend to Agree, in principle

    but i also Recognize that folks running their business have certain leeway to run it as they see fit (such as ladies night, a dress code and so on)

    but i ain’t touching all of that right now

    i’m talking very specifically about the case in point raised by the Article…pharmacists not filling a prescription

    nuff said…


  • Clavos

    As you’ve seen, I agree. I just carry it further.

    And, after two years intense experience with at least three hundred medical “professionals,” including nurses, physicians and patient care specialists I have a VERY low opinion of them as a group, so am not surprised to hear about the pharmacist.

    I think the day’s not far off when you’ll see the same kinds of things from physicians – look at those guys in London.

    “First, do no harm” my ass.

  • i do know that this conversation is making me rethink my propensity for discussion around here…

    much to ponder


  • Clavos

    Was it something I said?? :>)

  • not what, but the HOW sometimes

    it’s not about you, per se…more about the medium, and me

    as i said, much to ponder…how is it that good people can be so at odds at times over small details, when agreeing in basic principle, how is it i can get very angry/upset over it at times…frustrated that what appears clear to me, is completely not Understood even after careful explanation…

    would i be better served just stating my Thoughts, then never looking at a Thread afterwards…writing my thinking as an Article and ignoring the discourse?

    not certain, but a lot to consider, imo


  • Some of our participants find the artilce writing and ignoring the comments route to be a good one. I know I’ve considered it from time to time when beset by particularly annoying commenters, but it’s in my nature to never run away from a scrap, I fear.

    I do tend to take the best ideas that come to me in the comment section and eventually turn them into articles with the thoughts more completely worked out, though.


  • STM

    Clav: “Ladies nights” at bars should be illegal too.”

    Ooh, I dunno Clav. I reckon it’s a great excuse to gather up all your mates and go to a different bar.

  • Nancy

    Unless a prescription endangers the patient’s life, no pharmacist has the right to second guess the physician; certainly not on personal moral/religious grounds that don’t involve actual danger to the patient.

  • troll

    so…here’s the oath (with commentary)

    nothing about having to sell everything and anything

    this is just another example of Statism vrs a free market of products and ideas

  • This is the 500,000th comment on Blogcritics, so I think my rights should prevail!

  • Clavos

    You’re right about the Oath, troll, but gonzo’s point was that the laws which deal with pharmacist licensing require that they must fill ALL legitimate and legal prescriptions presented to them.

    And Chris, don’t they always?

  • troll

    like I said – Statism…rule of law and all that

  • Thanks to the two of you for your part in us reaching such a figure! With apologies to Abel Keogh for the hijack, I’ve written a few words to mark the occasion – Blogcritics Comments – Half A Million Strong!.

  • Clavos

    Thank you very much, Chris.

    I would like to take this opportunity to point out that my contribution, according to the leaderboard, is approximately 1%.

  • Yeah, I live here in Washington State. Or a State of Confusion…

    Seperation between State and Religion? How about Medicine and Religion? Since medical practice is very much regulated by state and federal law, that line is being crossed again….

    This issue is so damn stupid that it is unbelivable that such idiot level morons of political and medical services have even made it into office.

    Great, just go to another pharmacy. Sometimes that pharmacy is 100 miles away in this state. Unlike the eastcoast, out west you can actually drive 100 miles and not even see a gas station or rest stop. If you live on limited income, too bad…

    The option is to have your doctor fill the script at whatever outrageous price the nearest hospital pharmacy will nail you for. Then again, that hospital might be 100 miles away…

    I am trying to figure out how the religious Nazi’s infiltrated our generally liberal state of mind in Washington.


  • Nancy

    DM – the same way they infiltrated everywhere: by front-loading the voting booths with idiot church sheeple who buy their dogmatic bombast, & by thinking voters staying home.

  • Clavos #13, STM #20, as a sidebar to this thread, you brought up the concept of outlawing “ladies nights” at bars. I’ll get back on subject by the end of this comment.

    Here is my deal on that. Back in the spawning days of punk rock in Seattle (proto-grunge) in my scene management and promotion, with my band, X-15 (Cornell loves these guys)I made a policy that we would never play a ladies night anywhere. The scene was so happening that bars that actually had ladies nights hired a lot of the punk/wave bands.

    But our trip was that ‘ladies night’ is some really SEXIST pig assed promotional tool and it is ubelievable that such an idea still exists in this day and age.

    Of course, we would have fun with it sometimes since in an alternative scene you definately meet alternative people. So it was fun to invade some club’s ladies night by organizing the tranvestites and overweight, chopped haired black leather coat women and just throw our own scene down and mess up the Sexist pigs taking advantage of women on ladies night. And mess things up for the women who partook also….

    HHHMMM…how to make the concept of alternative protest-business hijacking to work with this pharmacy issue here in our state now…Any ideas people??? Maybe create a line of people at the pharmacy trying to fill their ER Contaceptives, but have each person play the roll of rightous maniac of every religion. The Mormon behind the Baptist behind the Bhuddist, etc. All getting pissed off in each religious form?

    Bhudda call!!!! No Booty call nights at bars….


  • Nancy

    I never thought of it like that, DM, but you’re right. It is sexist. I guess otherwise the bars would only be full of guys & bull dykes…?

  • Nancy, #29, thank you for clarity, I love you! Yeah, I thought they may have leaked in from Idaho (east state border) or something…


  • Alec

    Abel – A great article! It’s clear that you would also agree with these examples:

    A Muslim minicab driver refused to take a blind passenger because her guide dog was “unclean”.

    Abdul Rasheed Majekodumni told Jane Vernon she could not get into his car with the dog because of his religion.

    This even though the law requires all licensed cab drivers to carry guide dogs. (London Daily Mail, October 6, 2006)

    Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis-St. Paul have issued a “jihad” against customers who carry alcohol. The cabbies refuse to transport anyone carrying alcoholic products. (Reuters October 2006)

    For a year, Julee Lacey stopped in a CVS pharmacy near her home in a Fort Worth suburb to get refills of her birth-control pills. Then one day last March, the pharmacist refused to fill Lacey’s prescription because she did not believe in birth control. (USA Today, 11/09/04)

    In a truly free society, consumers would realize that there is no “right” to emergency contraceptives, birth control pills, or taxi cab rides. Hell, there should not even be any licensing boards. Or an American Medical Association. Or Medical Boards. Or food and drug laws. Anyone should be able to call himself or herself a doctor and treat patients. And people should be able to write up their own prescriptions, or even make their own drugs at home and sell them to others.

    Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  • Religious beliefs should not be allowed to be imposed on medicine. When these medical practitioners take there oath they do not state “as long as it does not conflict with my religion”.