Gov. Janet Napolitano refused Wednesday to let pharmacists legally decline to fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill.
Napolitano vetoed what had been dubbed “right of conscience” legislation, which would permit pharmacists and other health care providers to refuse to dispense medications that could cause an abortion.
That includes the morning-after pill, which some people believe can work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. “Pharmacies and other health care service providers have no right to interfere in the lawful personal medical decisions made by patients and their doctors,” the governor said in her veto message.
Napolitano also pointed out that the drugs involved are used only by women. “As such, this bill likely would be successfully challenged in court on (constitutional) equal protection grounds,” she wrote. That contention is disputed by Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference. He said similar laws exist in other states. Johnson, who speaks for the bishops of the Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup, N.M., dioceses, also said Napolitano's veto amounts to intruding on the civil rights of pharmacists.
“It is indeed troubling that religious discrimination, especially in the workplace, is becoming an acceptable prejudice in many segments of society,” he said.
“Health care professionals and institutions like Catholic hospitals should never be forced to violate their conscience, especially in the taking of an innocent human life.” But the governor insisted that this kind of law is not only bad policy but unnecessary.
“Most pharmacies already have developed internal policies that accommodate both the medical needs of their customers and the individual rights of conscience of their employees,” she said, ensuring that someone will be available to fill all prescriptions.
The legislation would have protected pharmacists who refuse to fill these prescriptions not only from action against them by state regulators, but also the companies that employ them. And it would not have required the pharmacist to refer the patient to someone else, either in the same store or elsewhere, who would fill the prescription.
Foes of the legislation said a decision by an individual pharmacist could delay a rape victim from getting the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, especially in a rural area where there may be only one drugstore nearby.
Johnson countered that nothing in state law now requires a pharmacy to stock the pills in the first place. Much of the dispute stems from pharmacological questions regarding how the morning-after pill works. The pill is essentially a massive dose of hormones, very similar to a woman taking several regular birth control pills at once.
There is evidence that the hormones, taken at a certain time, can prevent ovulation. But there is also evidence that the same hormones, taken at another point in a woman's cycle, can block a fertilized egg from taking root in the uterus. Cathi Herrod, who lobbies for the Center for Arizona Policy, said that is the same thing as an abortion for people who believe that life begins at conception.
Johnson noted there already are state laws that protect doctors and hospitals who do not want to perform abortions. He said this is not that different. Napolitano said this legislation was opposed by several groups, including the Arizona Pharmacy Association, the Arizona Nurses Association, the Arizona Public Health Association and the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.
“It is unwise to pass laws opposed by the leading associations of professionals whom the bill purports to protect.”