25 Sep 2006 There is No “Plan B” For A Good Conscience, by Djana Milton
by Djana Milton
Earlier this year, the Washington State Pharmacy Board ruled that pharmacists in the state did not have to dispense the controversial drug if they had religious, moral or ethical objections to it. But the Board subsequently withered in the face of an assault from Governor Christine Gregoire, pro-abortion special interest groups, and a seemingly complicit media. A pharmacist may object to dispensing the drug (a “conscience clause”), but another pharmacist in the same pharmacy must be available to dispense Plan B and give referrals to pharmacies that sell it.
Since the Board’s initial unanimous decision in favor of pharmacists’ rights was announced on June 1, the Governor threatened the Board, the special interests issued blistering press releases, and the media quoted only outraged women. Absent from the majority of the public discourse are the voices of women and other Americans who believe that rights should be applied universally and without prejudice.
The ideal that human rights apply to all has come under attack by special interests and politics. One of the founding principles of our great nation – the right to exercise one’s conscience – seems an early casualty. Abraham Lincoln’s words should remind us of our responsibilities in the face of injustice – as in this case when the rights of others are in jeopardy. Lincoln said: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
Our governing bodies are obligated to ensure that the rights of all individuals are respected equally. In Washington, the Pharmacy Board had a civil obligation to not craft rules that violate pharmacists’ rights just to make it convenient for those who, in the pursuit of their own desires, would trample upon the rights and convictions of others.
As former presidential candidate and secretary of state Williams Jennings Bryan said in 1915: “The chief duty of governments, in so far as they are coercive, is to restrain those who would interfere with the inalienable rights of the individual, among which are the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to the pursuit of happiness and the right to worship God according to the dictates of one’s conscience.”
In Washington, the Board is failing to protect the right to life, as well as pharmacists’ right to liberty and freedom of conscience. Similar boards in Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina and Wyoming have also ruled against pharmacists’ conscience clauses.
At the same time, in the pending Illinois case of Menges v. Blagojevich, Judge Jeanne Scott has recognized that rules forcing pharmacists to dispense Plan B, if proven at trial, “may establish that the object of the Rule [morning-after-pill mandate] is to target pharmacists… who have religious objections to Emergency Contraceptives, for the purpose of forcing them either to compromise their religious beliefs or to leave the practice of pharmacy.”
Once a pharmacist is forced to dispense medication that might harm a budding life, that pharmacist becomes an accomplice in the gravest of crimes. The mental and spiritual damage that would result from compulsory disregard for the moral imperative not to kill cannot be undone.
A wise man once said, “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” That wise man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When the Washington State Pharmacy Board reversed their draft ruling on August 31, effectively trampling on the right of pharmacists to exercise their consciences, did board members recall and attest to Harper Lee’s words in To Kill A Mockingbird: “[B]efore I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”?
The Board caved to cowardice, expediency and popularity.
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Djana Milton is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.