Morning After Pill ‘Conscience Clauses’ Questioned By Health Experts

Morning after pill “conscience clauses” are coming under question by health experts who believe that the current attitude of pharmacists toward the morning after pill is muddled, causing confusion for patients and ethical issues for pharmacists.

The current “conscience clauses” allow for pharmacists who have religious or moral reasons for not handing out the morning after pill to refuse service for those without a prescription. Generally, the morning after pill is available over the counter, and no prescription from a doctor is needed. However, the “conscience clause” allows for pharmacists who disagree with the use of the pill to refuse to hand it over without a prescription. Pharmacists who refuse the customer can refer the patient to a pharmacy that will provide the controversial pill.

The problem, say researchers from the University of Hertfordshire and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, is that there is no clear guideline for patients or pharmacists where the morning after pill “conscience clause” is concerned. The researchers note that pharmacists refusal to hand out the pill, yet willingness to refer the patient to another pharmacists who will comply, is hypocritical. The researchers write:

“Either the General Pharmaceutical Council’s and Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland must compel all pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to all patients meeting the clinical criteria who request it regardless of their own moral or religious objections, or the pharmacist must refuse both to supply EHC and to refer the patient to an alternative supplier and confront the possible consequence of a complaint against them for poor professional performance or professional misconduct.

“The alternative is to remain locked in the current cycles of mutual cognitive dissonance wherein the objectors convince themselves that referral does not constitute supply and the regulators do not place themselves in the position of having to deal with a vocal religious minority of whom they are terrified.

In short, the morning after pill is legal to give to anyone who wants it, with or without a prescription. The problem, these experts say, is that pharmacists who choose to utilize the “conscience clause” and simply refer the patient elsewhere are merely “passing the buck.” Either pharmacists need to stand firm in their moral or religious concerns and refuse both the morning after pill and the referral, or pharmacists need to readily give out the contraceptive to any of-age patient who asks.

Emergency hormonal contraception – otherwise known as the morning after pill — became available without a prescription from UK pharmacies in 2001 and the Republic of Ireland in 2011.

Do you think that pharmacists should refer patients to another pharmacy if they aren’t willing to hang out the morning after pill?

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