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Briefing and Opinion
June 10, 2005

Left: Stephani Cox, Right: Ron Stephens
1. Pharmacist Refusals
2. Values in the Workplace
3. Objection or Harrassment
4. Barrier to Access
5. Ending Pregnancy?
6. Reducing Abortion Rates
7. Right of Conscience
8. Role of Government
9. A Dangerous Precedent?
10. Reproductive Rights
Ron Stephens is a devout Christian, a Republican state representative of Illinois, and the owner of one of only two pharmacies in the small town of Troy, Illinois. His religious beliefs have put him at odds with a new state law requiring pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions, including those for the morning-after emergency contraceptive.

Stephani Cox is the director of patient services at the area Planned Parenthood in Springfield, Illinois.
Q: How frequent are requests for the morning-after pill? How common is it for pharmacists to refuse?

STEPHENS: In 16 years of operation of our Troy store in Illinois, we have never seen a prescription for the morning-after pill. Until about a week ago. A lady presented the prescription. I was not in the store. My partner has no problem filling the prescription. It was an undercover operation, actually. Can't prove that, but I'm very suspicious that it was.

COX: I would say in the last year, just to the nurse practitioners here in this clinic, refusals have happened probably 20 times. We usually handle it ourselves, either by calling the regional supervisor for that pharmacy if it's a chain, or just ordering it at another pharmacy that will provide it without lecturing or embarrassing the woman. I have counterparts that are patientís services directors throughout the country, and they are all experiencing the same kind of situations.

Q: Is this imposing your moral values in the workplace?

STEPHENS: It is just the opposite. I'm not trying to impose my will on anyone. If a woman has the prescription, I'm not taking it away from her, or giving her a lecture. I'm simply asking, because of my religious beliefs, not to have to fill the prescription. It's not my morality in the workplace. It's my morality within myself. The state is telling me that I have to practice my profession in counter to my religion. A woman has a right to choose. I'm saying, as a practicing Christian, I have a right to choose too. And I choose to practice my religious beliefs and not have the government roll over me and tell me what I have to think and believe and act out in my profession.
COX: I believe everyone has a right to his or her own personal views. But, just as when I put on my lab coat to see patients, I have to leave my personal views outside and my judgments and anything personal that has to do with my personal belief system stays outside. Pharmacists should have that same responsibility. When they put on their pharmacy coat and step into their pharmacy, it is their responsibility to fill valid, legally ordered prescriptions for legal medications without embarrassing, humiliating or lecturing a patient. If they really wanted to lecture on moral opinions, they should have gone into a different profession such as the clergy or something, but it's not the pharmacist's role.
Q: What of pharmacists who do more than politely refuse?

STEPHENS: There are bad characters in all professions. People who misuse their positions of authority and trust. But I still believe that pharmacists are respectful. Those of us that have an objection to Plan B, for the most part, and to my knowledge everyone that I know, is polite, careful about the issue. All they are saying is, "I have a religious tenant belief so deep in my heart, that I'm willing to risk my job, if that's what it takes."
COX: I hate for my patients to be lectured by a pharmacist. I hate for my patients to be inconvenienced. Maybe it was all she could do to get to that one pharmacy. Now she's got to find a ride somewhere else. I hate that my patients are being told information that is totally incorrect. It's absolutely humiliating for women. It's embarrassing enough for a lot of women to admit that they had a sexual disaster, but at least they recognized and responsible enough to know that they do have a second chance available. No woman or man should ever go into a pharmacy and expect to get a lecture or be embarrassed.