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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Another Woman Denied Contraception After Chemist Exercises Religious Opt Out

A Muslim chemist in South Yorkshire repeatedly refused a mother the “morning after” pill because of his religious beliefs. Jo-Ann Thomas, a school crossing patrolwoman with two children, was told that even though the item was in stock she should go to her doctor for her supplies.

When she was denied the pill at a Lloyds Pharmacy near her home in Thurcroft, Rotherham, she asked why and says she was told the pharmacist was a “deeply religious Muslim”.

She said: “I am a 37-year-old woman, not a daft girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing, and the chemist has no right to tell me whether I can or can’t take the pill. It’s my choice, not his. It’s his religion, not mine. He’s a dispensing chemist and his job is to dispense drugs. I asked for the pill because you have to take it within 72 hours and this was now 36 hours. I don’t want to increase my family and this was an accident so I needed to take the pill. In the end I had to go to the doctor’s surgery. I was angry because he is a dispensing chemist and it is his job to dispense drugs. If he can’t do that on religious grounds then perhaps he should not be in the profession.”

Jo-Ann said: “This is a perfectly legal drug but there is a man introducing his own laws. It cannot be right that he can pick and choose the drugs he sells.”

A spokesman for Lloyds, which runs 1,300 UK pharmacies, apologised to Mrs Thomas for her inconvenience. But he referred to a “conscience clause” in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain’s (RPSGB) ethics code, saying: “It states that if supplying the morning-after pill is contrary to a pharmacist’s personal, religious or moral beliefs they are entirely within their rights not to supply it.”

Lynsey Balmer, Head of Professional Ethics, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain explained that the Code of Ethics and Standards requires that pharmacists act in the interests of patients and the public. She said: “However, as with other regulators of healthcare professionals, the RPSGB recognises that a pharmacist’s beliefs or personal convictions might prevent him or her from providing a particular professional service (for example the supply of emergency hormonal contraception). Although the code does not compel a pharmacist to provide a service that is contrary to his or her religious or moral beliefs, it does require pharmacists to respect patients’ decisions and beliefs, and to advise them of other ways in which they can access the required service to ensure that their care is not unduly compromised.

Ms Balmer continued: “If a pharmacist’s beliefs or personal convictions prevent him or her providing a particular service, the pharmacist must not criticise the patient, and either the pharmacist or a member of staff must advise the patient of an alternative source for the service requested.”

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said: “This is far from the first case of its kind in this country, and we expect we will be seeing many more. It is time that the RPSGB gave serious thought to amending its code of practice to ensure that future pharmacists realise that they will not be permitted to foist their religion on to those they are paid to serve. This kind of religious posturing could have serious consequences for people on the receiving end. At the least there should be a prominent notice in a pharmacy informing customers that the pharmacist reserves the right to refuse prescriptions or sell particular products on religious grounds.”

See also: American court orders Catholic social services to provide contraception services


Published Fri, 20 Oct 2006