Thursday, December 04, 2008

Government Small Enough to fit in Women's Underpants

In the final days of the lamest duck administration ever, President George W. Bush is planning to announce an expanded “right of conscience” rule permitting medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers to refuse to participate in any procedure that they find morally objectionable. This would include abortion, contraception, and possibly artificial insemination. It would also include Plan B, the emergency contraception pill also known as “the morning after pill,” which is often given to rape victims.

Plan B is already being denied to rape victims. In 2007, a Tampa woman was raped, then arrested and held in prison for 2 days on charges of an unpaid fine. A worker with religious objections prevented the rape victim from taking the second dose of Plan B that had been prescribed by the ER physician who examined her after the rape. In 2006, a rape victim in PA was denied Plan B by the ER doctor, who said it went against his Mennonite religious beliefs. In 2005, a Tucson rape victim made over 50 phone calls to fill her prescription for Plan B. She finally found the only pharmacy in the area that stocked it, only to be refused by a pharmacist who refused to fill the prescription, citing his religious/moral objections to the drug. No word on whether any of these upstanding moral and religious men have any objections to the crime of rape.

According to HHS, this expanded rule would apply to any entity that receives federal funding. This would include approximately 4,800 hospitals, 234,000 doctor’s offices, and 58,000 pharmacies. Apparently the lines aren’t drawn very clearly. In hospitals that receive federal funds, workers could refuse to do parts of their jobs on religious/moral grounds. This attack is aimed at women, but there’s nothing to stop the rules from applying to the GLBT population, people with mental retardation, mental illness, the elderly, and people who are dying. The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association have asked HHS Secretary Leavitt to drop this proposal, no doubt fearing the havoc that is likely to ensue in hospitals, but Leavitt has stated his intent to adopt this rule change before Obama takes office. This is a two-fold attack – it’s a perpetuation of the war on women, and it’s going to mess with the new president. Republicans everywhere should be really proud of themselves for this dirty little business.

Some of this is, of course, already occurring. Just this week, a woman in CA attempted to fill a prescription for an ADHD drug, and was denied by a CVS pharmacist, who not only refused to fill the prescription, but also did not offer her other options. In Yakima, WA, a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for pre-natal vitamins because it came from a women’s health clinic. The clinic performs abortions, and the pharmacist apparently told the woman she didn’t need the vitamins if she wasn’t pregnant. The anti-choice folk aren’t able to grasp the concept that “women’s health clinics” are involved in care other than abortion. Anesthesiologists have refused to assist in sterilizations. The rule change being enacted by HHS/BushCo will result in even more of this kind of action.

A woman soldier serving in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than to be killed by enemy fire. Women soldiers are denied abortions at US military hospitals, even if they pay for them themselves. This would seem to be a violation of their Constitutional rights, the ones they are fighting to defend – but in the global war on terror, apparently women are also the enemy.

I certainly agree that anyone who objects to abortion should not have to perform or assist in the procedure. Beyond that, no one has the right to impose his religious beliefs on anyone else. Pharmacists are not doctors. If they want to decide what drugs people should take, they should go to medical school. Beyond that, it is their job to fill prescriptions written by physicians. If they are not willing to do so, they should find other work. These brave religious and moral folks don’t seem to have any moral objections to filling prescriptions for Viagra. Viagra is regarded as necessary treatment for a “medical condition.” Apparently impotence is not God’s will. These same folk don’t seem to grasp another simple truth; that by not filling prescriptions for Plan B or contraception, they’re likely to be causing a hike in the abortion rate. According to a 2008 report by the Guttmacher Institute, the US abortion rate is currently at its lowest number since 1974, continuing a rate of decline that began in 1990.

Many of the people who claim these sorts of moral and religious objections would undoubtedly tell us that they don’t believe in “big government.” Yep, they want to shrink the size of government so that it’s small enough to fit in your bedroom or your underwear.

Conway Daily Sun editorial on December 5, 2008
h/t to for the picture.


DissedBelief said...

This week on NPR I listened to Mike Huckabee's interview with Dianne R. I find it so interesting how fundamentalist Christians boast their way through life, holier than thou. Does Huckabee hunt I wonder? The "discussions" I've had with individuals such as these always end up with them defending their right to kill (Iraq, and the murdered food they choose eat). When I raise the issue of voiceless animals, the arguments from these individuals are lame, such as "God gave us all the animals to kill and eat". What I just love about our right wing fundamentalist sector, is that they justify any belief they have by using God. Sounds radical Islamic to me, someone help me out and tell me what the difference is. You can't because there isn't any. Both sides use violence and the suppression and oppression of women to further their cause. Ye olde Chastity Belt is returning. Guess what? You are NOT pro-life if you choose to consume murdered animals. I can quote as many lines from scripture as you can on this subject to back it up. Another great column Susan and love the new look of your blog. Keep up the great writing and research you do. Blessings and good things to you for the hols.

Anonymous said...

While I find it sad we don't allow right of conscience in the military so that things like torture don't occur, I have to say I disagree with you entirely.
If our nation is truly free, then people of all vocations must be free to follow their moral conscience. If that moral conscience conflicts with their line of work, perhaps they should find another line of work, but to suggest that it's wrong for a doctor object to a "medical procedure" on a moral basis is completely anti-intellectual.
Other vocations not only is such moral fiber considered good, but it's a benefit. If a structural engineer refuses to work on a project on moral grounds, whatever they may be I bet you would be far less critical of his scruples. Why is the human body any different? Or a priest/pastor refusing to marry a couple for what he considers moral reasons?

I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a doctor of the highest moral standard who at least questioned the implications for every procedure than one who was completely amoral as you are suggesting these pharmacists and doctors should be. If my physician had the kind of scruples that you find appealing, I would fire him outright and suggest he gain a conscience.

susanb said...

Thank you, Dissed Belief - I'm probably not finished playing around with how the blog looks, but this at least provides more space.

I've had a lot of positive response from women on this particular editorial.

jurjen303 said...

In response to Anonymous @ 1:01 PM:

First, the armed forces actually do have regs to prevent torture; soldiers can refuse to follow an order they reasonably believe to be unlawful.

Second, you're conflating professional medical ethics with personal morals. A doctor, pharmacist etc. who refrains from allowing his personal morals to reflect upon his work still has to behave ethically. And, in fact, professional ethics demand that when personal morals and professional ethics conflict, the professional ethics win out.

The medical profession is ethically obliged to act in the interests of the patient's well-being, but at the same time, we are talking about the patient's well-being in a medical context only. It is emphatically not the doctor or pharmacist's place to be concerned with the patient's spiritual well-being, and as a result, the doctor or pharmacist's personal morals cannot be allowed to trump the ethical principle of patient autonomy. A doctor or pharmacist can legitimately refuse to provide a service only because he believes it would be contrary to the interests of the patient's medical well-being to do so.

The ethical principle of patient autonomy, incidentally, is one major point that sets health care apart from the other examples you've mentioned. There is also the issue that, as patients, if we require a particular medication, and that medication is a controlled substance, we are legally required to seek the services of someone granted the authority by the government to prescribe and dispense it. As any first-year political science student will tell you, authority and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. When you have the exclusive authority to carry out a certain task, you have a concomitant responsibility to do it when it needs doing.