Pharmacies and Our Religious Freedom


Since 1991, BreakPoint has been telling you about the steady erosion of our religious freedom. That freedom is increasingly being limited to what goes on even inside our churches or inside our heads. Well, earlier this month, another chunk was taken out of our religious freedom, and then, as before, Christians have been all too quiet.

Across the country, many pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives: "the pill" and the so-called "morning-after pill." For instance, many Catholic pharmacists will not dispense "the pill" because they believe that it would violate their conscience and their Church's teaching.

Other pharmacists draw the line at the "morning-after pill," which causes a spontaneous abortion. Like Karen Brauer of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, they refuse to participate in the "killing [of] humans at any stage of development." They agree with Brauer that "if women really want this drug, they are going to have to find a willing provider."

This seems reasonable, especially in areas where there are several pharmacies within a few minutes of each other. But it's not enough for the folks at Planned Parenthood. When a pharmacist in downtown Chicago refused to fill a prescription, they organized a protest, despite the fact that women in the area have many alternatives. What right was being violated? In the words of the Chicago Tribune, it was the "right to access contraceptives without a hassle."

This so-called "right" would be comical except for what happened next: Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich issued an "emergency rule" that required pharmacies to "accept and fill prescriptions for contraceptives without delay." In addition, he set up a toll-free number for reporting pharmacists who refuse.

Playing Charlie McCarthy to NARAL's Edgar Bergen, Blagojevich called the refusals "part and parcel of a larger campaign," noting that similar things are happening "all across the country."

Yes, Mr. Governor, conscience, especially religiously informed conscience, is funny that way. If a Christian in Chicago thinks that something is morally suspect, chances are that Christians in Indiana and Colorado will, too. Noting similarities and parroting NARAL's conspiratorial rhetoric doesn't change the fact that Governor Blagojevich trampled the religious freedom of pharmacists in order to protect the "right" of women to get a prescription filled "without a hassle."

Events like those in Illinois have prompted legislatures in thirteen states to consider giving pharmacists the same "conscience-clause" rights that doctors have. But four other states and Democrats in Congress are proposing legislation similar to Blagojevich's order. These bills would explicitly give a patient's "convenience" priority over a pharmacist's "religious or moral" convictions.

The disregard and contempt for religious freedom in these proposals is breathtaking. "Religious freedom" that is limited to an hour on Sunday and private thoughts is no freedom at all. There is a word for government that forces people to do what their consciences condemn: tyranny.

That's why Christians must unite to protect "conscience-clause" rights of pharmacists everywhere. If we don't speak up for the pharmacists, the next chunk of freedom taken away will be ours.

For further reading and information:

The Protection of Conscience Project - The Protection of Conscience Laws Project:

  • advocates for protection of conscience legislation.
  • facilitates communication and co-operation among protection of conscience advocates.
  • provides legislative draftsmen with useful information.
  • promotes clarification and understanding of the issues involved to assist in reasoned public discussion.
  • acts as a clearing house for reports from people who have been discriminated against for reasons of conscience, directing them to legal assistance and other support when possible.

Today’s BreakPoint offer: "The Cost of ‘Choice" by Erika Bachiochi, ed., captures the moral, legal, medical and political complexities surrounding abortion.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040311, "A Jealous God: How Far the New Liberal Orthodoxy Will Go".

Lindy Royce, "Congress to consider birth control bill," CNN, 15 April 2005.

Judy Peres, "Protestors rip store over birth control," Chicago Tribune, 23 March 2005. (Reprinted by Infoshop News.)

Ted Olsen and Rob Moll, "Weblog: Prelude to the Contraception Wars," Christianity Today, 11 April 2005.

Amanda Paulsen, "Culture war hits local pharmacy," Christian Science Monitor, 8 April 2005.

Kari Lydersen, "Ill. Pharmacies Required to Fill Prescriptions for Birth Control," WashingtonPost, 2 April 2005, A02.

Peter Kreeft, "How to Win the Culture War" (InterVarsity, 2002).


Mark Earley. "Pharmacies and Our Religious Freedom." BreakPoint Commentary (April 26, 2005).

From BreakPoint ® (4.26.05), Copyright 2000, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.


Mark Earley is the President of Prison Fellowship.

Copyright © 2005 Breakpoint

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Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.