October 17, 2012 — "The religious beliefs of pharmacists, doctors, nurses, or other healthcare providers should not trump a woman's ability to make decisions about her reproductive health," Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel and director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women's Law Center, states in a U.S. News & World Report opinion piece. "Those decisions are personal, and they should stay that way," she writes.
"Unfortunately, healthcare providers are refusing to dispense emergency contraception based on their own religious or moral beliefs, thereby overriding women's decisions about their bodies and lives," she continues. She notes that pharmacists have refused to sell birth control or EC in 24 states, while some hospital emergency departments refuse to provide EC to rape survivors.
Refusals often result in women being shamed or stigmatized, as well as reduce women's trust in the health care system, Borchelt says. They also "violate informed consent, restricting women's information and options," she adds. With EC in particular, delayed or denied access can lead to pregnancy, which for some women can carry severe health risks. She notes that refusal laws impose a disproportionate burden on women in rural areas, as well as on those who have low-incomes or limited job flexibility and have difficulty accessing reproductive health care.
"Laws should require all hospitals and pharmacies to establish a system to ensure that women in need of birth control, including in emergency situations, receive it without discrimination and delay," she writes, adding, "Individual healthcare providers with religious objections may be accommodated ... but not at the expense of patient access to critical healthcare" (Borchelt, U.S. News & World Report, 10/15).
Editors' Note: We previously posted a summary of Borchelt's piece that incorrectly stated that 24 states permit pharmacists to refuse to sell birth control or EC. In fact, Borchelt wrote that pharmacists in at least 24 states have refused to sell the products. The summary above contains the correct information.
The editors of the Women's Health Policy Report regret the error. For expanded coverage of state laws that allow providers to refuse services for moral or religious reasons, please visit the refusal provisions section of our companion site, Repro Health Watch.