It is Easier to Attack than Agree on a Workable Solution

“Senator Vinehout turns her back on Wisconsin women” read the headlines of a recent press release put out by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

The issue has to deal with filling prescriptions for contraceptives. There are two considerations: the right of a woman to have her prescription filled without question or hassle, and the right of a pharmacist not to be compelled to take an action that violates her individual moral conviction.

A bill heard in our Senate Health Committee during the last days of the spring legislative session would have required all pharmacists to dispense contraceptives regardless of conscience.

This is a problem that seldom occurs. The last time a complaint was made against an individual pharmacist was six years ago and that pharmacist was severely disciplined.  There is a procedure in place for pharmacists with conscience concerns to inform their employer and for the employer to make alternative plans to fill the prescription. We know the system works – it was upheld by the courts in a decision just last week.

There is no pressing reason for a new law.

If there is to be a law, there are specific reasons why it must recognize both the woman’s right to have her prescription filled and the pharmacist’s conscience.

First, the Wisconsin constitution offers greater protection for the right of conscience than the US constitution.  Article 1, Section 18 of the state constitution requires that NO “control of or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted.” As a State Senator, I swore to uphold our constitution.

Second, courts in Wisconsin and other states have ruled on this particular issue stating that an “appropriate balance” must be achieved.

Third, the chances of living in peace with our neighbors will be better if we all, wherever possible, recognize and respect each other’s beliefs.

The solution is relatively simple. Even though an individual pharmacist may opt out of filling a prescription, that pharmacist and the pharmacy still have the affirmative duty of seeing to it the prescription is filled.

 When such an agreement was reached last October in a similar Illinois court case, the executive director of Illinois Planned Parenthood called it a “thoughtful solution”.

It is for trying to achieve this “thoughtful solution,” - for trying to solve a potential problem - that I have been accused of “turning my back on the women of Wisconsin”. Nothing is further from the truth. In supporting the right of women to have their contraceptive prescriptions filled without hassle, I also recognize the role of conscience. A balance can be reached. The reasons for the attack on me are political rather than substantive.

Those who have attacked, claim that women will have to “endure a shameful and public rejection at a local pharmacy, and then somehow find a less ideological pharmacist somewhere else.” This claim is imaginary and false; designed to inflame emotions, not to inform with facts. Under the amendment I proposed, such an action would have resulted in discipline of the pharmacist.

As a recent Wisconsin court decision stated, the pharmacist “is allowed to work as a pharmacist and to exercise his beliefs about contraception; he is merely prevented from doing so in a manner where he deprives patients of their legal health care rights. … The imposition of the proposed discipline, training and practice guidelines strike the appropriate balance between the interests of an objecting pharmacist and the need for protection of the public in this action.”

Too many players in politics today are driven by ideology, seeking to impose their particular beliefs without regard for the beliefs of others. It is one of the major reasons the legislative process degenerates so often into diatribe and deadlock. To break that cycle we need to respect our own beliefs, but also work toward practical solutions that solve problems and put divisive issues behind us. Name calling should have been left on our childhood playgrounds.