Letter-Writing Wednesday: The Problem of Religious Pharmacists

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One of my earliest blog posts was about right-wing pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions on religious grounds. It’s still a problem.

This week, I read this story of a Walgreens in New Mexico whose pharmacist refused to fill a woman’s prescription for misoprostol. It’s a common drug for stomach ulcers, but it also relaxes the cervix, which makes it useful for abortion, for inducing birth, or for preparing for an IUD insertion. You get one guess which of those uses this sanctimonious believer was upset about:

According to the complaints, the teenage woman and her mother, whose names are only referred to with initials, were also picking up an IUD and anti-anxiety medicine at the pharmacy. The pharmacist, Jesse Garrett, filled two of the prescriptions but made the mother and daughter fill the misoprostol prescription at another Walgreens location.

…the pharmacist[] “explained in a judgmental tone that he was refusing to fill the prescription because he had a ‘pretty good idea’ for what purpose the medication would be used,” according to the complaints.

I wouldn’t have devoted a post to this one incident, if it weren’t for this comment from Darrel Ray (HT: B&W). He wrote a letter to Walgreens, and got back a confirmation that their corporate policy permits this!

Naturally, I had to write a letter of my own:

* * *

To Whom It May Concern:

I was shocked to read that a pharmacist employed by Walgreens refused to fill a valid prescription for a woman and her teenage daughter because he disapproved of the assumed purpose of the medication.

This alone would be cause for outrage, but I had assumed that your company would act swiftly to dismiss a worker who engaged in such blatant insubordination. I was even more astonished to hear that Walgreens corporate policy permits pharmacists to turn customers away at the counter and force them to find another store!

I’m shocked that Walgreens ranks the comfort, health and well-being of its customers below the whims of its employees, who can decide not to serve us – even to withhold vital medication – based on any arbitrary conviction they claim to hold. By what right do your employees believe they can intrude on the relationship between me and my doctor, make insulting assumptions about my life and my medical needs, and then hold me up for public shame and ridicule? In the age of social media, is this the public image your company wishes to present?

This is not a religious freedom issue. If I have religious objections to the duties of a job, I’m free not to take that job. Your company seems to be endorsing the bizarre alternate view that I have the “freedom” to take that job but then refuse to perform its duties. Would you hire a Christian Scientist, or member of another sect that believes in faith healing, to be a pharmacist and then pay them while they refuse to dispense any medication at all? What about a Muslim pharmacist who wouldn’t speak to female customers unless they were accompanied by a male relative? Would you tolerate an employee who was only willing to serve customers if they converted to his religion first?

I assure you that as long as this policy is in effect, I won’t fill prescriptions at Walgreens or buy anything else from your stores. I don’t wish my health or my medical needs to be held hostage to the whim of a snooping, sanctimonious employee, especially when that behavior is actively condoned by your company as a whole.

Sincerely,
Adam Lee

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.