Thursday, April 14, 2005

Anti-Choice Pick Their Next Target

Dahlia Lithwick has a Jurisprudence piece over at Slate depicting the issue of "conscience clause" and it's extension now from doctors to pharmacists. That may seem like no big deal, but it's a whole new front in the abortion/life/choice war. This isn't about RU-486. This isn't about abortion. It's simply about birth control pills, and in the most extreme cases emergency contraception. 11 states are, for all intents and purposes, planning to greatly restrict access to these LEGALLY approved FDA drugs, subject to the personal whims and convictions of pharmacists. It's under the radar for now, but make no mistake this is probably a bigger attack on right to choose than any appointment of a pro-life judge to the Supreme Court. Why? Here's why:

"Whatever you may think of the morality of taking a morning-after pill, the incontrovertible fact is that it loses efficacy after 24 hours and becomes virtually useless after 72. So, one pharmacist's refusal to dispense them can rapidly morph into an unwanted pregnancy. That means—particularly in isolated or rural communities—the religious objections of the pharmacist can trump the mother's legal rights. This may well lead—as noted recently by the St. Petersburg Times—to an increased number of later-term abortions. Which would be ironic, were it not so sad."

Think this is liberal hysterics about a bunch of hypotheticals? No, it's not:

"For a pharmacist to subordinate a physician's judgment to his own is the height of arrogance. Reports from around the country—of pharmacists delivering hectoring lectures, discriminating against unmarried women, or refusing to return prescription forms to be filled elsewhere—reveal what happens when pharmacists are allowed to interpose their own values between a physician's medical judgment and the needs of her patient. Does the guy who drives the Pfizer delivery van hold an analogous right to be a conscientious objector?"

As for my position on abortion, I've said it in the most wishy-washy nuanced way before. I'm a step beyond "safe, legal, and rare" but generally I recognize that it has to exist, because the consequences of not allowing it destroy and violate more than allowing it. But that's not the argument here. That's not even what's under discussion here. The pro-choicers held the battlefield for a long time because they effectively managed to combine birth control, contraception, and abortion into a seamless package. Because the right tended to attack it all at once, it was easier for the left to draw attention away from the nasty aspects of abortions.

Then the pro-lifers repositioned themselves. Largely, most of the mainline pro-life movement dropped their criticism of birth control (and also because emergency contraception didn't much exist at the time), and tailored their attacks on only the gruesome aspects of abortion, particularly partial birth and late-term abortion. This repositioning allowed them to take most of the field. For the history of this pivot, see Saletan's piece here, or read his book. Now we're back around again. A lot on the conservative side, embolden by this shift, are reopening the attack on contraception.

If pro-choice activists are smart, they will pivot as well and portray this for what it is, a denial of medical service, an invasion of privacy, and a trumping of people's right to make decisions about their bodies, and this time it's just about whether they want to risk getting pregnant or not, not whether they already are pregnant. These pharmacists and their allies would deny even that right. My guess is if they keep pursuing this line the pro-life movement (or, in this case I would say the anti-choice movement, because only whackos would argue that birth control is tantamount to abortion or murder) will overextend itself, but unless those who dissent draw attention to it and raise awareness, this fringe could overextend itself and keep on going.