Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. So goes the dictum. But what has put an awful lot of noses out of joint recently has been the actions of this pharmacist, despite him not actually taking a swing at anybody.
In short, the story goes like this. The pharmacist, a devout Roman Catholic, feels that he cannot in good conscience sell or dispense contraceptives. Since the oral contraceptive pill can be described for a variety of reasons besides contraception, he does stock and dispense it. But when he does, he gives his customers a note explaining his stance and asking them, if they are using it for contraception, to please go to another pharmacist to fill their next script.
This has provoked an outraged response from many, who claim that if he cannot just shut up and fill the script he is denying women bodily autonomy and control over their own fertility, contributing to unwanted pregnancies and related health and social issues, and failing in his professional duty of care.
All of which I might concede, if he were the only pharmacy within reasonable distance. As it is, with a competitor not five kilometres up the road (I am told, I haven’t checked the precise distance myself), I can’t see how he is actually denying anybody anything.
Sure, he could have perhaps managed his communication better. Not everyone will understand the painstaking scruples of a Catholic and the way he has worded his note could be unhelpful.
But let’s be clear. A Catholic in this situation has three basic options. One is to go against his conscience and sense of ethics. I hope we can all be agreed that this is a violation of a person’s sense of self which we would do well as a society to avoid. He could retire from the profession and no longer work as a pharmacist. (Although he has a legally protected right to act within the dictates of his conscience without breaching relevant professional code of ethics). Or he can seek to find a middle ground in which his customers’ needs are not denied, but nor is his conscience violated.
So why is it so outrageous to so many people that he has sought to find this middle path with sensitivity and integrity?
I suspect that at the end of the day it’s not really about access to contraceptives, or professional medical care. And although there’s a good deal of hatred of the church being vented in the discussion (one particularly choice comment I saw yesterday suggested that Catholics disapproved of contraception so that they could have more children to abuse), I suspect it’s not just that either.
Beyond that, there seems to be outrage at the inconvenience of this man’s approach to running his business. But, I might have to travel further down the road. But, I might have to plan ahead to get a script filled. But, I might not be able to get exactly what I want, when and how and from whom I want it, on demand.
That’s not oppression of women. It is, at worst, a slight inconvenience. When a script for the pill lasts several months, it gives you plenty of time to figure out how to work around it, if you have the good will and respect for your fellow human being to do so.
Of course, if you don’t see your pharmacist as a fellow human being, but as a functionary to do your bidding, you might be upset. But as a fellow human being, he is deserving of consideration and a willingness to come alongside him as he defines his place in the community. Rather than demand a withdrawal of all religious and ethical conviction from any arena in which it might affect interactions between two people, how about this:
Let’s imagine a world in which we are each prepared to be inconvenienced, for the sake of one another. Where we place the integrity of another person above our demand for instant satisfaction. Where we uphold one another and attempt to work together in building community.
That is far more likely to break down systems of oppression than forcing all pharmacists to dispense the pill ever will.