May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


Editor’s Pick
APRIL 6, 2011 10:00AM

When Your Pharmacist Thinks S/He's a Priest

Rate: 38 Flag

Once again, pharmacists have been given the option of deciding which medicines they choose to dispense.

Pharmacists in Illinois were told by a judge that they can say "no" to certain pills. And lawmakers in Missouri are attempting to pass a law that would restrict these same medicines.

What are we talking about? Viagra, maybe? I mean, if you can't get an erection by yourself, maybe that's God's way of letting you know that you're done with sex. 

Cholesterol drugs? Well, if I saw that you were 300 pounds overweight, I might tell you that cholesterol drugs aren't going to save you from your gluttony and you should just take your punishment? 

 Pain relievers? No, God clearly wants you to be in pain, so just suck it up. 

No. Of course, these are not the drugs we're talking about. 

Two years ago, I wrote a long piece about Plan B contraception, otherwise known as the "morning after pill." Until President Obama came into power, you could not buy the morning after pill if you were younger than eighteen. (Under President Bush, you couldn't buy it at all for the longest time, until the FDA finally said okay. Once again, politics trumped science, until science finally pushed back.)

In my earlier piece, I reported my own use of the morning after pill. So, let's be clear, shall we, on what we are talking about? The morning after pill is not RU-486, which is taken several weeks into a pregnancy and is intended to induce an abortion. 

The morning-after pill is exactly what it sounds like. It is a high dose of regular birth control pills, taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, that prevents implantation. In that respect, it works just like an IUD. 

And, for rape or incest victims, the morning after pill is often the only remedy to prevent the additional punishment of being impregnated by your attacker. But don't let facts get in your way, dear pharmacists. 

In how many small towns are women facing down the only pharmacist in town who has decided that women who are sexual do not deserve to make a decision about their own bodies? Are there morals clauses that allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense Viagra? Or is this just about punishing women, again?

Same bullshit, different day. 

 Here's a clue: you are a pharmacist. I respect that you went to school for as long as I did and now make twice my salary. Average starting salaries are:

CVS / Pharmacy$70,000 - $115,642Walgreen Co.$82,424 - $104,176Rite Aid Pharmacy$70,337 - $113,200Walgreen's Pharmacy$68,784 - $99,442CVS Caremark Corporation$93,750 - $124,646

So, somehow, you think your education and your salary allows you to play priest. That's the only conclusion I can draw about a pharmacist who thinks that s/he knows better than the medical professionals and the women who make these decisions every day. 

Pharmacists do not get to make moral decisions for their clients. If they feel that they cannot dispense the drugs that they are required by law to do so, then get the fuck out of the industry.

And, while you're at it, get the fuck out of my uterus. 


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I'm not a feminist, but I agree completely...except for the age thing. I do think a girl under 18 should not be able to get whatever drug she wants just because she's sexual. I think she needs a parent's consent. Otherwise, we could have little girls as young as 13 or 14 requesting prescriptions includng the pill without their parents knowing about it. Good post. If I want to discuss a moral issue, I'll talk to a priest of a preacher....but not my pharmacist.
I meant to say "or" a preacher.
Patricia--the priest of a preacher is an interesting concept. I like it. :)
Amen, sister . . . say it, say it, say it!
Have I told you how much I love it when you write like this Lorraine??
It is all called Control. Control of womens bodies.....
This is just another example of the craziness we are in for when the the evolutionary challenged get to make laws.
rated with love
Good post. I wonder if I can refuse to treat someone who shows up at my hospital with a turban or single and pregnant or whatever judgement call I care to produce on them? Don't like it, don't be a pharmacist, because you will be called upon to give medicine to everyone who has a valid prescription not just the ones who fall in your realm of right and wrong.
AMEN to that!!! The whole country's gone nuts . . . I hope they do shut it down.
Right on! Same with Catholic hospitals! R
Aren't those pharmacists who refuse to uphold the law exposing the companies for whom they work to a potential lawsuit?
Sophie--That's an interesting question. Target currently allows pharmacists to say "no" as long as there is another pharmacist on duty who will dispense it. (At least, this was its policy.)
It seems to me that a pharmacist who refuses to give out contraception should perhaps have to pay child support.
patricia k - you're right, it would be much better to just let those 13 or 14 year old girls get pregnant.

Or maybe we can require parental consent to have sex, no?
Priest? More like they think they are God.~r
The pharmacist profession should be so (Mr. Gower It's a Wonderful Life) obsolete. They're just glorified cashiers. The whole thing could be so computerized, right down to the counting and dispensing of pills. Our attitude about drugs (legal or illegal) is so screwed up.
Dienne, are you telling me that you don't want to know what's going on with your under aged child? My husband and I tried to get our 16 year old son drug tested at the doctor's office, but wasn't able to since he wouldn't consent. So, he continued doing whatever he was doing and becoming worse. Do you really think a child under 18 should have those kinds of rights?! Well, I don't. They aren't mature enough to make those kinds of decisions.
I share your anger. This is reprehensible.
What a bunch of asshats. These people should just do their job, I still don't understand why you still need to "ask" for plan B anyway. It should be on the shelf with the condoms, imo.

I'm with Lady...they should just be over the counter like condoms...that way it is truly choice and no one has to be afraid to make that choice nor feel they are going against their own personal feelings in dispensing it...xox

I don't go to church to get pills, and I don't go to the pharmacy to get a sermon or moral BS. If a pharmacist can't dispense my legal prescribed medications without imposing their own narrow morality, they don't belong behind that counter!
Preach on, sistergirl! As I see more and more of a woman's control of her own body being denied her, I worry for my daughter's generation. It's getting so that The Handmaiden's Tale isn't so far-fetched anymore.

r. for the righteous indignation.
Good One Fingerlakeswanderer!

We have a Walgreens in our town where my wife and I do business. By some circumstance, the pharmacists are conservative moralizers. With a particular drug, I wanted to know about any drug interaction with an ocasional cocktail. The Pharmacists face went pale, she left the window and the head pharmacist came to my window: "Sir, consumption of alchohol is bad for your liver!"

I was incredulous: "I'm not asking for a sermon, I would like for you to answer my question." At that moment, I heard one of the other pharmacists at the drive up window say to the person outside in the car, "Remember, only 10 more days 'til Lent."

Whoooa, for a moment I thought I was in the late 90's, in a Blockbuster....
It is incomprehensible and inane. The only part I disagree with you is when you say,

"Are there morals clauses that allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense Viagra? Or is this just about punishing women, again? "

Why don't you see this as punishing men as well?

"Same bullshit, different day. " That is just it. We are not equal to them, they keep us that way, they want to 'rule' us and keep us down. I am just sick of it.
I agree with you. I also agree with the boss who fired me for refusing to work on war materials during the Vietnam War.
i don't think anyone should be compelled to do business. this leads to 'whites only' restaurants, and 'no pill for you, slut,' which is an embarrassing position to be in.

but if you are compelled to do business, can't you be compelled to charge a particular price? what if your pharmacist told you "we have the pill, our price is $1000 per pack." would you demand a lower price?

how much lower?
Who the heck are these pharmacists supposed to be serving? Because if they can't dispense legally prescribed drugs, they need to look into another line of work.
Right On. Thank You very much fingerlakeswanderer.
Pungently put and exactly right, in the metaphor of pharmacist-priest. Privy to womens' deepest secrets only incidentally, in a narrow professional role, they should at the very least, respect the judgment of prescribing doctors, who have more education (and money!) than them, just as priests must defer to the judgment of a living loving God , who also has more education and wealth than his hirelings.
Thank you all for the comments. I've been down with a migraine, and therefore unable to comment.
Gary--I found your story compelling. I can't imagine what it's like to live in a town so small that you only have one choice. Too much power.
I also agree with you all in seeing this as an issue about control. You can't oppose abortion and birth control. If you want to reduce abortion, then allow women to practice family planning with no interference.
Don't even get me started on the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Maurene, this was an issue that came from the pharmacists themselves. There's an organization called "Pharmacists for Life," whose membership simply stopped giving out Plan B based on their morals. Legislators then stepped in to enshrine said prejudices. Then the courts started ruling on this. President Obama and other elected officials have issued statements to the effect that pharmacists need to do their jobs. I see your point about legislators, but this issue started with the pharmacists. If they hadn't raised a fuss, then the legislature wouldn't have gotten involved.
Legislators can be damn silly fools because they have
cowardice as their constituency.
Fortunately you can change your legislator occassionally,
but not your street level pharmacist, unless you are well-off.
Thank Heavens I only have toxic bullshit psychiatric drugs
to pick up at WalMart. I am part of an exploding industry,
I keep the wheels of the commercial pharmo-industrial Complex turning. Some of my drugs actually work: that is Capitalism.
I wonder how often they decline to dispense high dose oxycontin because of the high rates of addiction and drug dealing associated with it.
When the Government thinks it's a priest.

Go into a pharmacy and try buying smokes without a tax. Good luck.

Try buying many medicines without a prescription. Good luck.

Try, in some states, buying sodas without a tax. Good luck.

At least in the case YOU mention, you can try to find another pharmacy, but for the smoker, the drinker, the person who doesn't want to make - or can't afford - a doctor's visit, no such luck.
No one denies you the right to buy cigarettes, soda, or liquor. Once again, you are comparing apples to oranges. When pharmacists refuse to give out Plan B contraception, price is not a consideration. Tax is not a consideration. Access to the product in question is the issue, and none of the things you have mentioned are denied to people solely on the basis of gender.

You might have been amused if you'd seen the steam coming out of my ears when I read your post. I'm not surprised - I've read too many stories of this sort. I AM infuriated.

Actually, I think you're aiming a bit low. These pharmacists have declared themselves God (or gods, as you prefer) not priests. The level of arrogance is that high.

Pharmacists are in business, but they are also healthcare providers. While I respect the right of someone in their position to not personally provide a service they consider immoral (e.g., dispensing an abortion pill such as RU-486) they do still have a duty of care. That duty adds up to referring a patient to another provider who will provide the service. THEY DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO PREVENT THE PATIENT FROM RECEIVING THAT SERVICE.

I'm from Canada. Last year, a a physician interviewed on a medical current affairs show on CBC ("White Coat, Black Art") said that she would not feel comfortable providing an abortion, "but I would always refer." That's the middle ground that respects the patient's need for care.

My chosen media may be biased, but there seems to be a rising tide of misogynistic legislation in the United States. While the justification is protection of the unborn, the real effect - and quite possibly, the conscious motivation behind this lawmaking - is the control and subjugation of women.

Get the fuck out of our uteruses, indeed.

Excellent post.
If you're a pharmacist who refuses to dispense medication for any other reason than proven safety issues (like drug interactions), you should have your license revoked. Period. No questions asked. You don't belong in medicine. Pimping for some bogus megachurch or charlatan TV preacher is more your speed.

So what are you going to do when you walk in and had the person your prescription and they had it back and say we don't carry that item? Are you now going to pass laws saying that a private business must carry it?

Before non-smoking restaurants became law, my restaurants were non-smoking. It was my choice. Your choice was to go someplace else.

If you don't like what they do then I guess you will just have to go with plan B. You don't get to decide how a private business runs or establish their employee policies which allow them to not dispense the drug if they have a problem with it. If people refuse to go there because they disagree with what they do, then they will close their doors and go out of business.
AND no one denies YOU the right to buy what you want. You simply have to go elsewhere.

It really IS similar. It is not apples to oranges. Do you, or not, think it wrong to impose taxes - which, like your restrictions make it harder to buy them - on cigs, alcohol, soda, etc.

By the way, a pharmacy is a private business and if it doesn't want to sell a person anything, including things I might want to buy (and the assumption that I am involved personally with the items I think should not be taxed is odd), it doesn't have to.

YOU are against restrictions on your product. Okay.. Are you against restrictions on other products THAT ONLY AFFECT ONE PERSON'S BODY?

Yes, or no? Try answering.
And, hate to burst your straw man (to mix the old expressions), but no one is DENYING you the right to buy what you like , they are simply making you go elsewhere. It is actually more onerous to have to pay a sin tax on the products I suggested.

Do you favour taxing smoking?
Fat taxes?
Mandatory helmet laws?
Soda taxes?
Limiting breast implants?
The President's Council on Physical Fitness?
Spending tax dollars on healthy living programs?
Taxing alcohol?

What a real liberal here at Salon? Wonders never cease. Here's to you.
"You don't get to decide how a private business runs or establish their employee policies which allow them to not dispense the drug if they have a problem with it."

I suppose that's true. What I'm really hoping will happen, as thefuddler mentioned, is that pharmacists who refuse to practice their CHOSEN profession (since you're so big on choice) will have their licenses revoked. Don't like what the job entails? Then find another one.
Thank you for posting this! Wanted to contribute my own lil' pharmacist-discrimination story....

I have Navy (meaning socialized) healthcare as a dependent, and at age 18, I went to the Navy pharmacy to get a dose of Plan B. Which I had done once before. Never had a problem. The pharmacist I had was very helpful and was about to get it for me, but the head of the pharmacy overheard our conversation and said "No, absolutely nothing without a prescription" I told her that Plan B is an exception at every pharmacy because it is time-sensitive. She said "Nothing without a prescription". Then the pharmacist I had ACTUALLY SHOWED HER THE SECTION ON PLAN B IN THE PHARMACY REGULATIONS saying that she could, in fact, give me Plan B. This sent the manager into a power trip and she overruled her. I told her I didn't have $50 in my pocket to go to CVS with. My pharmacist was getting upset at this point, so she pulled off her lab coat, came out from behind the counter, pulled me aside and whispered that I had to go to the ER, there was nothing she could do as a subordinate of this crazy woman. I ended up having to sit in the ER for 8 hours. The doctor laughed about the whole thing when he finally saw me and it only took him about 5 minutes to give me a piss test and write a prescription. I spent an entire day at the hospital all because a FEMALE pharmacy manager ignored her own regulations to avoid giving a young woman Plan B. I had no revenge other than ripping her on my facebook staus.
Damn. Straight.

Good job.
While you're at it, Lorraine, could you please tell Chick-fil-A they should be open on Sundays? Thanks.
I wouldn't trust a pharmacist who did not know the basic fact of biology that life does not really begin until gastrulation, which happens AFTER implantation. The difference between generative and regulative development is taught in High School Biology. Apparently, pharmacy students and practitioners need a refresher in basic bio.
you go girl....keep preaching it!!!!
If men could get pregnant, how different the world would be.
With you all the way!
@ Michael Binder

Yes, but that is true only if the scientist takes the Embryological point of view. If he or she takes the Genetic one, we have a different picture.

See: Developmental Biology, Scott F. Gilbert

But, really, on this issue a shop of any kind should be free to carry or not carry what they wish. If a store of any type does not carry, say, tobacco products - the owner believing them to be immoral and/or dangerous and/or unhealthy - he should have the right not to carry them. We still have the right to buy legal products such as what this writer wants to buy, but it doesn't mean a free individual who owns a shop or dispenses something is compelled to do so.

And, by the way, since from what is written above, it appears there is ANOTHER pharmacist in the shop who will sell the product, what is the beef? Does the writer wish the pharmacist who will not (sell) be compelled to go against his or her conscience? Do we really want to go there as a nation? Do people really want to force people to go against their conscience on such matters? You all won't like it when this comes round to bite you.
If there is only one pharmacist in town? That is very inconvenient. I suppose people will just have to drive to another town. A pain, but still it leaves that pharmacist free to sell what his conscience "allows" him to.

BTW, if drugs that are currently illegal ever become legal, I hope stores that are not comfortable selling them will not be compelled to do so.
My mistake, the article above does NOT seem to say there is another pharmacist to sell you what you want.

Oh well. You still don't have the right to compel people to sell what they don't want. You'll have to find another store. If there is a market for this "drug", you'll find a legal seller.

And to the comment-writer who suggested Catholic hospitals also not be immune from compulsion to do this or that if it is against their beliefs. What ya gonna do? Hold a gun and make a doctor perform an abortion?

If a Catholic hospital takes no public funds (which they'd be wise to do in order to ensure their freedom), and you don't like what they offer (or don't), move on. Don't give them your business. They can decide to change to GET your business or decide to do without your business. That is kinda how it works in a free and liberal society.