Associated Press, September 16, 2004
Anti-Abortion Activists Broaden
DATELINE: NEW YORK
In Congress and states nationwide, anti-abortion
activists are broadening efforts to support
hospitals, doctors and pharmacists who - citing
moral grounds - want to opt out of services
linked to abortion and emergency contraception.
A little-noticed provision cleared the House
of Representatives last week that would prohibit
local, state or federal authorities from requiring
any institution or health care professional
to provide abortions, pay for them, or make
abortion-related referrals, even in cases of
rape or medical emergency.
In Mississippi, a bill became law in July that
admirers and critics consider the nation's
most sweeping "conscience clause."
It allows all types of health care workers
and facilities to refuse performing virtually
any service they object to on moral or religious
And in states across the country, anti-abortion
organizations and a group called Pharmacists
for Life are encouraging pharmacists to refuse
to distribute emergency contraceptives, which
they consider a potential form of abortion.
"We've seen increasing organization and
networking to get more pharmacists to refuse
to provide EC - not just in the Bible Belt
but all over," said Gloria Feldt, president
of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"It's part of the anti-choice arrogance
in which they believe they have the right to
impose their ideology on everyone else."
Karen Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life,
was fired by Kmart in 1996 for refusing to
dispense a birth-control drug. She believes
momentum now favors her movement.
"More people, including pharmacists, are
becoming informed how certain drugs operate
- and those who want to avoid ending the life
of a human being would avoid those drugs,"
Brauer, who lives in Lawrenceburg, Ind., and
works at a drugstore in Ohio, hopes more states
will emulate Mississippi, South Dakota and
Arkansas by specifying that pharmacists, as
well as doctors, have the right to withhold
services on moral grounds. She does not believe
there should be any obligation to refer rebuffed
customers to another pharmacist who would fill
"Forced referral is stupid," she said.
"If we're not going to kill a human being,
we're not going to help the customer go do
it somewhere else."
At the federal level, abortion rights groups
are alarmed by the provision that cleared the
House last week, broadening protections for
hospitals and insurers that seek to avoid any
involvement with abortions. The provision would
prevent government officials from using any
coercive means - such as a funding cutoff or
permit denial - to ensure abortion-related
services are available.
Two years ago, the House passed a bill with the
same goals, but it died in the Senate without
a vote. Anti-abortion activists are pleased
because the revived proposal was sent to the
Senate as part of a broader appropriations
bill and, at minimum, will go to a House-Senate
Opponents say the provision's impact would be
felt primarily by low-income women who depend
on federally subsidized health care and use
Roman Catholic hospitals. According to the
critics, the measure would enable hospitals
to refuse to provide abortions, or referrals,
even if a pregnant woman had been raped or
was in critical medical condition.
"That the U.S. Congress would be so callous
as to add this kind of provision - that affects
only poor women in the most extreme circumstances
- is outrageous," said Frances Kissling,
president of Catholics for a Free Choice.
Kissling said she was heartened by developments
in some states - such as a California Supreme
Court ruling that Catholic Charities of Sacramento
must provide birth control options in its employee
health plan. "But for women in conservative
states, that's no help," she said.
Mississippi's new law provides sweeping immunity
for opting out of abortion and contraception
services in a state where many women seeking
abortions already travel to Alabama or Tennessee
to obtain them. "We have doctors who won't
even issue birth control prescriptions,"
said Nsombi Lambright of the American Civil
Liberties Union's Mississippi branch. "It's
not their job to impose their beliefs on others."
In contrast, anti-abortion health professionals
say it is their beliefs that are embattled.
Texas pharmacist Gene Herr, for example, was
fired this year by the Eckerd drugstore chain
after refusing to fill an emergency contraception
prescription for a rape victim.
"They were forcing me to do something that
I see is wrong," Herr said.
The American Medical Association and American
Pharmacists Association support their members'
right to conscientious refusal. However, the
pharmacists' group says patients also have
a right to obtain legally prescribed therapies.
Lourdes Rivera, who assists low-income patients
as director of the Los Angeles-based National
Health Law Program, worries that anti-abortion
health providers are gaining too much leeway.
"Yes, we need to respect individual freedom
of religion. But at what point does it cross
the line of not providing essential medical
care? At what point is it malpractice?"
she asked. "If someone's beliefs interfere
with practicing their profession, perhaps they
should do something else."
On the Net:
Pharmacists for Life: http://www.pfli.org
Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org
<< Associated Press -- 9/15/04 >>
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