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Are You There God? It’s Me Your Pharmacist

Saturday morning my mother and I spent an hour on the phone relishing in post-election blues. As we swapped frustrations across 2,000 miles (I’m in the blue state of New York; She’s blue in the red state of Florida), she informed me of an infuriating article she read in USA Today. Evidently, pharmacists have the right to “refuse on moral grounds to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.”

Saturday morning my mother and I spent an hour on the phone relishing in post-election blues. As we swapped frustrations across 2,000 miles (I’m in the blue state of New York; She’s blue in the red state of Florida), she informed me of an infuriating article she read in USA Today. Evidently, pharmacists have the right to “refuse on moral grounds to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.”

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One CVS customer was denied refills of her birth-control pills because her pharmacist doesn’t believe in birth control. Another woman (who claimed she was a victim of rape) was refused contraceptives in an Eckerd drug store for the same reason. According to the article, the American Pharmacists Association has a policy that arms druggists with the right to refuse to fill prescriptions “if they object on moral grounds.” Mississippi, South Dakota and Arkansas all have legislation that protects a pharmacist’s God-given right to insert their conscience into a consumer’s decision.

Since when has the local druggist become our pastor, our rabbi, our moral sage? As customers, we go to CVS or Eckerd to purchase our cigarettes, our Cheese Doodles, our hair-thickeners and whatever other harmful or innocuous products we decide we want to put into our bodies. When was the last time the guy at the register told you he wouldn’t sell you a candy bar because you were too fat? If he did, he’d be fired. Why should pharmacists have any more right?

This is just the latest evidence of the 1950’s morality insertions rapidly surfacing in American culture. And now it’s penetrating business. Employees are not only theoretically imposing their religious beliefs on customers, they are actively forcing customers to submit to their own moral code.

I say if they have a problem distributing birth control or the morning-after pill, get a new job. Surely their goodwill will be more welcome (and more appropriate) at the local Salvation Army. But that still doesn’t solve the greater issue of government and business imposing its theology on our freedom of choice. What stand should companies like CVS and Eckerd take on this issue? Where should the line be drawn when it comes to empowered employees? What is secular businesses’ role in an increasingly faith-based world?

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About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton

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