Our freedoms are paramount to our national identity. Some people misunderstand the degree of freedom that they are afforded; at some point, how you choose to express your liberty can actually be infringing on others, and a patriotic conception of rights does not allow for that. How far should health-care providers go in denying emergency contraception to women? As an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, which side do you take in this debate? In a recent opinion piece in U.S. News & World Report, Gretchen Borchelt makes several important points about why pharmacists should not be allowed to deny women emergency contraception on the basis of religious beliefs, and we as ministers should reflect closely on her reasoning as we arrive at our own conclusions.
The first point Borchelt makes is that the religious beliefs of pharmacists can be accommodated when women seek prescriptions for emergency contraception (which is time-sensitive and only works if administered without delay). “Individual healthcare providers with religious objections may be accommodated—for example, by making sure two pharmacists are on duty,” she suggests. But what if the second pharmacist on duty also objects to emergency contraception on religious grounds? Borchelt insists that such accommodations should not be made “at the expense of patient access to critical healthcare.” Her claim is legally tenable. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, but the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted to support reproductive freedom.
Borchelt’s criticism of obstructionist practices by health-care providers should also give ULC ministers pause. “Refusing providers must treat patients with respect and ensure that patients receive care from another provider. They cannot—as one Wisconsin pharmacist did—leave customers waiting indefinitely for assistance in the store and on the phone.” The case could be made that pharmacists who engage in such practices are exploiting their religious objections to prevent patients from gaining access to emergency contraception. Arguably, this is tantamount to using one’s religious beliefs to restrict patients’ options – they are infringing on liberty in the name of religious freedom.
But Borchelt’s concerns become even more serious when women’s safety comes into play. “Delays or denials to emergency contraception can lead to pregnancy,” she points out, noting that “[f]or some women, pregnancy can entail severe health risks and even life endangerment.” These health risks may be psychological in nature too, she explains: “A refusal to provide emergency contraception can further traumatize an already traumatized woman—like a rape survivor.” In such cases, unchecked religious freedom seems downright dangerous. Those who wish to get ordained and become a minister to help people might want to reflect: should doctors and pharmacists be allowed to threaten the health and safety of women because of their own religious objections to the morning-after pill?
A last point that should be made which Borchelt did not make in her article is that there are many cases in which we do not allow employers or health-care practitioners to deny medical treatment on religious grounds. Christian Scientist employers are not permitted to deny their employees health insurance plans because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. By the same token, then, why should pharmacists be permitted to deny women emergency contraception? At the very least, this deserves the scrutiny of ministers ordained online in the ULC committed to fairness and equality.
As our ministers are well aware, the Universal Life Church Monastery strongly supports religious freedom, but it also supports reproductive freedom and believes the one should be balanced with the other. Showing an inordinate preference for the former, with little or no consideration of the latter, smacks of religious tyranny and mocks true religious freedom. That said, we want your thoughts. Where do you draw the line between promoting freedoms and infringing on others’?