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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Another woman refused morning after pill by religious pharmacist

A Hartlepool woman has been refused the morning after pill by a pharmacist on the grounds of “religious conscience”.

A spokeswoman for Boots said their employees have the right to exercise a “conscience clause” and decline to serve the patient on religious or ethical grounds.

The 29 year old woman was reportedly “stunned” and “gobsmacked” when she asked for the pill (for which she had a prescription) and was told that she would have to go to another shop in town as the pharmacist wouldn’t fulfil the prescription because she had religious objections.

The mother says just moments before she was refused the pill, the same member of staff had served methadone to a heroin addict.

The woman, who didn’t want to be named, said she then didn’t get the opportunity to take the pill until two days later because one of her children became ill and she had to take her home immediately. This delay could have made all the difference to the efficacy of the medication.

A spokeswoman for Boots said their employees have the right to exercise a “conscience clause” and decline to serve the patient on religious or ethical grounds.

But Christopher Akers-Belcher, co-ordinator of Hartlepool Local Involuntary Network (LINK), which works to promote and support commissioning, provision and scrutiny of local health and social care services, told the Hartlepool Mail: “If an employee is providing a service, regardless of their beliefs, they are committed to that service which they deliver.”

A spokeswoman for Boots said: “Many Boots stores provide an Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) service in addition to dispensing NHS and private prescriptions for EHC. On a very rare occasion, however, the individual pharmacist may wish to exercise what is known as the ‘conscience clause’ and decline to serve the patient on religious or ethical grounds. If a pharmacist’s religious or moral beliefs prevent him or her from providing a particular service, the General Pharmaceutical Council’s Standard of Conduct, Ethics and Performance states that the pharmacist should refer the patient to other providers.

“We are sorry if this has caused any inconvenience. We will be reviewing the process with the store involved. If a pharmacist on the whole is against giving out contraception they should put a sign up and make women aware.”

Darinka Aleksic, campaign co-ordinator for Abortion Rights, described the situation as “appalling.”

“We think it’s right that women have the right to access contraception. Where push comes to shove, health and well-being must come first.”

Published Fri, 18 Nov 2011