By LUCY ORMONDE
When Mamamia reader Alisha Beuzeville emailed us about what happened to her when she went to get the Morning After Pill, we asked her if she would prefer to be anonymous.
Alisha thought about it for a short while, fearing that she’d be judged. And then she said no. She wanted her name to the story because she wants to end the notion that women should be ashamed to purchase emergency contraception.
I am a 28 year old, well educated, married woman.
I feel the need to give this biography before I continue as my recent experience with a local pharmacist made me feel anything but.
On Saturday evening I attended my local chemist and asked the woman behind the counter for the morning after pill.
I actually mouthed the words to her so that customers near by would not hear me. I did this, not because I am ashamed of my right to walk into a pharmacy and ask for this product but more so out of the fear of judgement I would receive if I said the products colloquial name out loud.
I needn’t have bothered because that judgement was going to be made but not by the strangers waiting by the register but rather by the pharmacist himself.
The woman behind the counter nodded and walked to the back to speak to the pharmacist.
She returned only a split second later and stated ‘I’m sorry dear; the pharmacist can’t sell this product. There is another chemist across the road though.’
I was confused as she had taken the details of the product I was after as though she was going to get it.
I left and went to the chemist across the road.
On my way out of the second chemist I decided to return to the first chemist and speak to the pharmacist.
The pharmacist was a male in his late 20’s who very politely explained that he had refused to sell me this product as he is a Christian and it goes against his belief to do so. He believes that if there is possibility of a life, it was against God’s wishes to terminate this possibility. His words. Not mine.
He further explained that the product is a schedule 3 drug and as such he has discretion as to who he dispenses this product to.
Using this same argument, I asked him if he thought it was reasonable for a pharmacist who was a scientologist to refuse to sell a customer antidepressant medication.
He replied by telling me that he was not a scientologist and that he could not offer an opinion to that.
The whole incident made me feel extremely judged by a person who I believe should be unbiased in their job.
I fail to understand why somebody would work in a profession which clearly may not be aligned to their personal and religious beliefs.
I wouldn’t work behind a bar selling alcohol if I was a Mormon. I wouldn’t work in an abattoir if I was a vegan. I wouldn’t work in a childcare centre and refuse to work with children. I’m sure you get my drift
The whole situation has me now thinking: What if I was not fortunate enough to be in close vicinity to another chemist? Should this pharmacist be using his personal beliefs to dictate who he does and does not provide medical assistance to?
The professionals in these roles are trusted by people like me to provide them with a medication that I am, by law allowed to purchase. My need for medication should not be influenced by another person’s religious or personal beliefs. I thought we, as women, had come a lot further than that.
It may surprise you to learn that the pharmacist was well within his rights to refuse to sell the emergency contraceptive to Alicia.
Mamamia spoke to Dr Lisa Nissan, who is the the Queensland Branch Manager for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. She told us that “pharmacists as a group have the ability, due to their moral or ethical beliefs, to not supply the emergency contraceptive.”
Pharmacists are required to “supply a valid alternative.” (Which is what the pharmacist in Alisha’s story did, when he told her to go across the street to another store.)
That’s all very well but the question we couldn’t help but wonder is what if there was no “valid alternative?” What if the pharmacy was the only pharmacy in a small country town? What if accessing an alternative meant travelling for hours, skipping work or skipping school? You hate to think.
Imagine if the woman asking for the morning after pill wasn’t willing to question the pharmacist like Alisha was. Imagine if the woman was young and vulnerable and scared. Imagine what it would take for her to walk into a second pharmacist and make her request once again.
Dr Nissan said she was personally disappointed by the policy but that she also believed people were entitled to their personal beliefs. As a university teacher Dr Nissan said she often tells her students that “health is about helping other people…. If they’re coming to you, they’re coming for your help – and not your judgment.“
Note: We spoke to the pharmacy that Alisha went to (and, because the pharmacist was within his rights to refuse to sell the drug, we’ve decided not to name him.) A spokeswoman confirmed that the pharmacist refused to sell the morning after pill for religious reasons and that those beliefs did not hinder the sale of any other items such as the contraceptive pill or condoms. She said there were “5 or 6” pharmacists at the pharmacy, “90 to 95 per cent” of whom would sell the morning after pill and that there was usually more than one pharmacist on duty.
The question is… is that good enough? Should medical practitioners be able to inflict their personal beleiefs on those coming to them for help?
For more information or to relay an opinion on this issue, contact The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia or Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia.
For more information on emergency contraception – what it is and when to take it – check out this fact sheet from Family Planning Queensland.