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Monday, December 05, 2005

Plan B

So it turns out that Target has decided to join Walmart (and other pharmacies) in allowing their pharmacists to decide whether they morally object to selling Plan B. I’m not entirely sure why Target would do this, as it seems to be just needlessly harmful from a business perspective, but there you have it.

First, read Andrew’s thoughts, then read Sean’s take since most of this is going to reference, obliquely or not, what they’ve already said.

Sean basically lays out the argument (of course, over simplified) that liberalism allows that the government ought to carve out private spheres, within which they will not infringe upon the privacy of mutually consenting actors. In this case, the right to access Plan B exists, but does not imply some obligation of the government to force private vendors to sell or provide it. While this seems to correctly state the position a consistent liberal would take, it seems to ignore that the antecedent isn’t met here.

Sadly, the government hasn't carved out a sphere where private individuals have access to Plan B. It still requires that you go to a government licensed pharmacist to purchase it. The moment the government requires individuals go through actors functioning in a public character, even if those individuals are not on a government payroll, they do assume some obligation to regulate the conduct of those people. If Plan B or other emergency contraception were available over the counter, then Target can stake the claim that they are a private economic entity and free from government regulation (under the liberal framework – obviously the current understanding of the commerce clause would give congress ample room to regulate a multinational corporation like Target if they wanted to.) and they could refuse to stock it. That’s their prerogative. But until OTC Plan B exists, they can't hide behind the claim of privacy as a fully public entity.

I almost feel as if Target would have more credibility here if, as Sean suggests they could do, they stopped stocking Plan B altogether. Then, at least, people would know ahead of time whether or not they should attempt to fill their prescriptions at Target. As it stands, a woman in a fairly emotion-wrought situation is forced to play roulette with her health, and might be deterred completely from filling the prescription when her pharmacist tells her that he considers her to be morally corrupt and asks her to leave the premesis. It's stated that Target's policy includes phoning the prescription in to a nearby pharmacy - which is great, unless you live in a town like the one where I went to high school, where the nearest "other" pharmacy was two hours away. Also, with a 72 hour window, sucks to be the woman who goes to pick up her prescription at 4:45 on a Saturday, only to find that by the time she can reach another pharmacy, it will be closed until Monday.

Sean also notes that the store policy allows Target employees to decide whether or not they will sell this, ‘carving out a religious right.’ Apart from the fact that, in any other context, this would be considered totally bizarre – imagine a cashier refusing to check somebody out becuase of a political objection to clothes made in China? Or a PETA employee refusing to sell hunting camouflage? – even within this context, Target clearly is not doing so. If Target had an across the board policy of observing employee’s religious consciousness, that would be one thing. But here, they are transparently preferencing Christian employees and their specific moral objection to Plan B. Imagine if a Scientologist became a pharmacist, and started refusing Xanax or Prozac, or if a Christian Scientist became a pharmacist and thought that antibiotics were against God’s will. They would be immediately fired. So to say that the situation is: Target hires people for their pharmacy counter, and subsequently carves out a sphere of moral choice is sort of stretching the truth. It also means that Target is judging the morality of Plan B by at least implimenting a policy that proclaims it is reasonable for people to believe that Plan B. If a pharmacist attempted a similar claim with insulin, I doubt Target (or the public) would have so much patience.

Sean also makes the argument that within abortion and contraception or without, we ought to remain consistent. Yet if a doctor refused to perform a certain operation, they are criminally and civilly liable under malpractice. If you roll into an ER with a heroin overdose, and the doctor on call has a moral objection to drugs and so, without anyone else there to operate on you, elects to send you to another hospital and you die en route, that doctor would immediately be castigated by the national press, and likely put in prison. Yet a pharmacist who refuses to allow an individual to fill a prescription of a similarly time-sensitive nature is just ‘exercising his religious liberty’? That’s sort of absurd.

And finally, Sean tells us that there’s some sort of slippery slope here - that, if we accept the principle that the government needs to enforce obligations within a sphere of privacy, that suddenly we’ll have Government sponsored mosques with coat hanger trees or something. This is, of course, sort of silly. The analog breaks down at the point where the government doesn’t restrict the private practice of religion or private mosques/churches/etc… in the way they restrict access to Plan B through non-government sponsored means. This sort of implies that the most extreme outcome of the slope is that, yes, in some circumstances it could be argued that if there is only one doctor available within a geographic area, that doctor might be obligated to perform abortions (if medically capable of doing so) – it certainly doesn’t lead to some bizarre state-sponsored public-access printing press.

Apart from the commenting on what has already been said, the other thing that’s somewhat important to note here is that pharmacies act in a way that makes them, on many levels, disanalogous to most other types of business. Even apart from government licensing, when a business acts as a public accommodation, it doesn’t always get the same claims to private operation as a different class of business. This is legally true, as well as philosophically consistent with classical liberalism.

Also, and a commenter on Andrew’s post pointed this out, largely issues like abortion and Plan B are considered ‘controversial’ because they only affect women. I hate most of modern feminism, but one of the things they have right is that, if men carried children, abortions would be fifty dollars and available in home-kits. Large segments of our society still maintain blatantly sexist assumptions, both about women and about their role. While it’s couched in ‘moral’ or religious ‘language,’ it’s terribly suspect that the puritans focus so much of their wrath at institutions that collaterally attack the myth of women as nonsexual beings.

Pornography, contraception, and all other industries that facilitate (or decrease the deterrent for) women’s sexuality are roundly condemned, routinely, by conservatives. But, as is so often the case, the religious zealotry falls noticeably flat since it’s typically these same groups that have no trouble ignoring the other half of the equation. When is the last time you heard the Christian Right attack men for premarital sex? Sure, it may come up in the course of calling women Harlot and Whore, but it’s never with the same fire and there’s just no feeling behind it. That we allow social and government acceptance of what amounts of gender discrimination under the guise of ‘religious liberty’ is not, in kind, different from allowing racism in the name of private association. It degrades religion to be used for such a transparently malicious end, and it’s sad that more women don’t call them out on it.

cranked out at 8:54 AM | |

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