Friday, the ACLU of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center filed complaints with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau on behalf of a mother and daughter who were refused a prescription related to the daughter’s IUD by a Walgreens pharmacist in Albuquerque, because of his “personal beliefs.”
The mother had come in to fill several prescriptions for her 13-year-old daughter in preparation for getting an IUD — pain reliever, an anti-anxiety medication, and the hormone misoprostol, which softens the uterine lining up so that a doctor can implant the device. The pharmacist refused to give her the misoprostol, as doing so would violate his “religious beliefs,” and told her she’d have to go to another Walgreens to get the prescription, even though it was already filled and she’d gotten a call saying it was ready at that particular Walgreens.
“I told him he was discriminating against me, that he should be ashamed for judging us, that he didn’t know my daughter’s medical history or her complications or conversation with her doctor. That he didn’t know what the medication was for,” she says. “And he just looks at me and says, ‘Oh, I have a pretty good idea.’ ”
OOH! Except he actually did not! Not that it was any of his business, or that it should make any difference either way, but the girl was getting an IUD not for birth control purposes, but rather because of complications in her menstrual cycle. The girl had already tried several birth control medications to correct things and hadn’t had any luck, so the doctor was prescribing an IUD.
WHEN YOU ASSUME…
(I’m just gonna say an IUD is a way better idea than giving a kid Vicodin, which is what my doctor first prescribed for me in order to deal with my severe cramps. It didn’t even help — but birth control, which I got on after, did. Sorry, Bible-abusers — I’m gonna have to argue that it is far preferable to put girls with menstrual issues on birth control than it is to put them on highly addictive painkillers.)
This pharmacist was refusing to give someone a medically necessary drug because he thought it might be used for the purpose of having safe sex that he might disapprove of.
In their complaint, the ACLU notes that refusing this prescription was gender discrimination, since the pharmacist almost certainly would not have refused to prescribe misoprostol to a man who was using it to help with stomach ulcers. He would have no problem, one would imagine, with a man using this drug to help treat a medical condition, but would not allow a girl to do the same. That’s discrimination.
This is not the first time this has happened. In 2012, Susanne Koestner was refused a birth control prescription at a Walgreens pharmacy due to the “personal beliefs” of a pharmacist working there. As a result of the outcry following Koestner’s experience, Walgreens vowed to institute a policy to prevent this from happening again.
Its official policy is that it’s fine for a pharmacist to refuse to prescribe something that conflicts with their personal religious beliefs — so long as there is someone else working there that can step in and do the prescribing for them.
Hypothetically, that seems fine. Everyone gets what they want! But then you have to consider that it’s probably pretty expensive to have an additional pharmacist on duty just to fill the prescriptions that the very holy pharmacist refuses to fill. Then you add in the complications of people going on vacation, people getting sick and not being able to come into work that day, the person doing the scheduling messing up, and it becomes apparent that this is a thing that isn’t actually possible to pull off.
The standard for these kinds of things is generally “reasonable accommodation” of religious beliefs. It becomes unreasonable, however, when people are not able to get their prescriptions. When people — who may not have easy access to transportation — are told that they need to go find another Walgreens and get their prescription filled there. That is an “undue burden” on the customer. Also, Yr Editrix wants you to know she brilliantly predicted 30 years ago that fundamentalists would start flooding into pharmacy colleges, just like they did school boards.
There’s also another kind of discrimination at work here — the fact that it’s considered “reasonable” at all for a pharmacist to refuse to provide birth control due to their religious beliefs and still be able to have that job. It seems unlikely Walgreens would hire a Scientologist pharmacist and allow them to refuse to fill scripts for psychiatric medications. But if the burden is only on sexually active women or women you merely suspect might be sexually active — then that’s allowed somehow.
While it may seem unfair, if you literally can’t do your job because of your religious beliefs, then you should probably get a different job. For instance, if you are a Jehovah’s Witness, phlebotomy is perhaps not the ideal career path for you. Amish? Probably gonna have some trouble breaking into computer programming. Or being an Uber driver. Get thee to a nunnery? Not if thee isn’t in a religion where they have nuns!
I’m sorry, but this case makes it clear that this kind of accommodation can’t actually work out, so the only “reasonable” answer to this is just to not hire people who will not do their jobs in the first place.
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