Woman refused contraception

// 11 July 2005

F Word reader Helen has alerted us to a shocking news item from early July. The BBC reports that in February, a Cardiff couple whose contraception failed went to buy emergency contraception from their local Asda store. The on-duty pharmacist refused to sell it to them, because of “high morals”.

Most women are probably not aware that The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Code of Ethics and Standards states that pharmacists can refuse to sell or dispense drugs because of their religious beliefs or personal convictions. However, they must not condemn or criticise a patient and they must advise a patient of alternative sources for the service. It appears that in some cases, even this is not happening.

The woman obtained emergency contraception from a different pharmacy the following morning, but it failed. She is now pregnant.

This is not even the first time this has happened. In 2004 at an Asda pharmacy in Stockport, a mother of four was denied access to the contraception. She said; "I understand the need for respect for employees and their religion, but when I visit a supposedly reputable store such as Asda, I do not expect to have staff impose their moral ethics on me or the choice of my purchases.”

I’ve read about this happening frequently in the U.S., where women’s right to reproductive choice hangs by a thread, but was blissfully unaware that it happened here too.

Helen writes: “Odd that we never hear of pharmacists inflicting their self-appointed morality on NHS patients by refusing to sell antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases, or medications derived from embryo research, or the necessary drugs for people who’ve had organ transplants (which some religious denominations object to), or condoms to men. It’s only women’s contraception which is targeted as supposedly unacceptable.”

She continues: “Individual pharmacists are allowed, by the pharmacists self-regulation code, to refuse to dispense pills on the grounds of their personal beliefs but this doesn’t mean that pharmacies with NHS privileges should be allowed to fail to serve all NHS patients (which means all of us all of the time). I believe we should write to our MPs and the relevant government departments insisting that NHS privileges must be removed from any pharmacy which fails to serve all NHS patients with NHS approved pills.”

Abortion Rights is one orgaisation campaigning on a specific area of reproductive choice, but if anyone knows of any organisations campaigning on this issue, please contact us.

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