Pharmacists should be allowed to follow consciences 12:01 AM CST on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 By ROD DREHER / The Dallas Morning News We all agree on this: It is morally wrong to deliberately cause the death of an innocent person. Most of us would further agree that no one should be compelled to participate in an act intended to cause the death of an innocent – this, as distinct from something like bombing an enemy target in wartime, which could cause innocents to die without intending to. Now, imagine if you were asked to help another person do something legal but still intended to take the life of an innocent person. Would you do it? That is precisely the situation in which two pro-life pharmacists at an Eckerd drugstore in Denton said they found themselves in on Jan. 23 when a man presented a prescription for "emergency contraception" for a rape victim. The two pharmacists – a man and a woman – said that they refused the request on conscience grounds and that they were fired on Jan. 29 over it. (A third pharmacist who claims he refused because he wasn't yet officially on duty said he was fired, too.) Eckerd spokeswoman Joan Gallagher said the trio were "appropriately disciplined" but, citing confidentiality, would neither confirm nor deny their job status. The pharmacists had faced an angry protest by some who believe refusing to fill the prescription was unacceptably cruel to the rape victim. Gene Herr, 33, the only one of the pharmacists willing to identify himself publicly, calls the moral dilemma he faced when handed that prescription "a nightmare." "My gut wrenched," he tells me, breaking his silence. "I felt compassion for the patient. Unfortunately, what they were asking me to do conflicted with what I see as morally right." He means that the rape victim may have conceived as a result of the attack. The purpose of "emergency contraception" is to prevent a fertilized ovum, if one exists, from implanting in the mother's uterus. For someone like Mr. Herr, who believes that human life in the moral sense begins at conception, there is no difference between this and a formal abortion. "Rape is the most heinous personal violation that anybody can do to somebody else," he said. "But two wrongs don't make a right. I would have done anything they wanted me to do to help her, but I wasn't going to help take this child's life." Mr. Herr said he had no idea he would be violating company policy by his act, but the Eckerd spokeswoman said the policy is stated in the employee manual. Still, no pharmacist should be compelled to be party to what he believes is the deliberate taking of innocent human life. Texas law protects physicians, nurses and other health-care providers who refuse to participate in abortions under Texas law. State lawmakers should explicitly extend the same protection to pharmacists. That wouldn't outlaw "emergency contraception" any more than the current conscience statute outlaws abortion. Nor would it empower individual pharmacists to withhold any medication they don't like from patients. It would apply only in matters that pro-lifers believe involve life and death. Given those facts, is it decent to force someone to be party to what he believes is a form of murder at the risk of losing a job? Can anybody feel good about that, especially considering that the patient in this case was able to go to a nearby competitor and get her prescription filled without a problem? Mr. Herr is an evangelical Christian and believes he has had to sacrifice his job for his faith. But he doesn't regret it. As Mr. Herr said, "You're not always going to get a pat on the back for doing right. Often, it's quite the opposite. This whole situation teaches me that my faith is real." "Ah ha!" you say. "There they go again, the Religious Right, trying to impose their extremist worldview on the rest of us." Well, look, you don't have to be religious or on the political right to be pro-life (ask Nat Hentoff, the left-wing atheist pro-lifer who writes for The Village Voice). But more important, it mystifies me why so many who favor abortion rights can't seem to understand that those of us on the other side really do believe that the unborn is fully human from conception. Nobody is asking pro-choicers to accept the beliefs of the pharmacists, and really, this is an issue that defies compromise. We at least should be able to agree on this: If we are to live in a society in which the rape victim, or any woman at all, is to have protected by law the liberty to end the life of her unborn child, then it is just and necessary to provide others with the liberty, also protected by law, to say, "You may do that but not with my help." Rod Dreher is an editorial writer and occasional columnist for The Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is [email protected].