If you object to abortion on ethical or religious grounds it looks as though you will be disbarred from becoming a pharmacist if the General Pharmaceutical Council has its way.
It has just launched a public consultation on how to interpret its new rules which stipulate that pharmacy professionals must provide ‘person-centred care’. Up until now, if pharmacists object to providing certain medication thanks to personal or religious beliefs, they have been able to refuse and refer the request to a colleague.
Under the proposed new rules, pharmacy professionals will have to “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and belief”, in what the General Pharmaceutical Council calls ‘a significant change’. The’ balance will now shift in favour of the needs and rights of the person seeking care’ and those who refuse to comply will face criminal sanctions.
What this translates to in practice is that if you refuse to provide someone with the morning-after pill, as is currently your right, then they can claim that they feel ‘judged’, that their care is compromised and either you or more likely the business that employs you will face criminal sanctions and could well lose its licence.
This will mean that at interview every single employer will now be forced to ask the potential candidate whether or not they have religious objections to providing the morning-after pill and anyone who fesses up will not be employed. Or those who are currently employed and have objections will face the sack.
While the principle is supposed to apply in theory to all types of medications and advice, in practice it is only the morning-after pill to which pharmacists currently object, because it is an abortifacient and therefore interpreted under the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act, which allows medical professionals to opt out of being involved with abortion, on conscience grounds.
In case anyone is in any doubt, one of the ways that the morning-after pill works is by preventing the fertilised egg from being able to implant into the womb. If you agree with the scientific consensus that human life begins at conception, a fact which is confirmed by every single embryology text book, then it is easy to see how the morning-after pill is problematic. If a Roman Catholic were to sell it to a client then they could be said to be complicit in the provision of abortion, something which confers automatic excommunication. Catholics are not alone in objecting to abortion - many Evangelical Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews have similar beliefs, as do those of other faiths and none.
It’s not as if the morning-after pill is particularly difficult to get hold of in any event. Rather than go to the pharmacy, a much cheaper option is to go to your GP, a local drop-in clinic or family planning centre who will provide it for free. There are plenty of other avenues, including other local pharmacies and surgeries should your local pharmacist object on conscience grounds and not have a colleague available to dispense the pill.
What this about is a gradual erosion of conscience rights, in favour of a patient who cannot bear to feel ‘judged’ by being reminded that people have ethical concerns about an abortifacient medication. How long before abortion rights groups lobby for the conscience rights of doctors who refuse to prescribe the morning-after or abortion pill to be removed, in order to be consistent with pharmacists? If medics are forced to provide clients with abortifacient medication then what’s to stop them from being forced to participate in abortion, which is the ultimate aim.
These guidelines are part of an incremental attempt to erode the conscience rights of medical professionals and make it impossible to object to abortion.
Whatever your views on the morning-after pill, this potential change is another worrying attack on freedom of religion and conscience. Nobody should be forced by the State into participating in an action that violates their deeply held belief or conscience, and neither should Christians or anyone else who objects to abortion, have a chosen occupation or career path suddenly closed off to them. The irony is that the Equalities Act, which is cited by the General Pharmaceutical Council to justify this change, explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
Rather than stick with the current sensible compromise arrangements, it seems that some beliefs are more equal than others.