A drugstore in Great Falls, Montana, newly acquired by a pharmacist named Stuart Anderson who is active in the pro-life movement, has announced it will no longer fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives. The decision prompted criticism from Planned Parenthood and its supporters, some of it deserved: The drugstore misleadingly cited health concerns in announcing the new policy, when moral objections to contraception seem to be the real motive. A woman who unsuccessfully tried to obtain birth control pills from the pharmacy, Salon reports, "is 49 years old and unable to conceive, but uses the birth control pills for a medical condition." People accustomed to obtaining contraceptive pills from the store are understandably annoyed at the change in policy and may decide not to do business with a pharmacist whose inventory and drug advice are shaped by nonmedical concerns. But some of the criticism goes beyond these points to suggest that Anderson is violating women's rights by declining to carry a product of which he disapproves.
Jill Baker, director of education at Planned Parenthood of Montana, says the woman who could not get birth control pills at Anderson's pharmacy was "denied basic health care." This is like saying that someone who tries to buy eggs at a convenience store that doesn't stock them has been "denied basic food," or that someone who tries to check into a motel that's full has been "denied basic shelter." Anderson is under no obligation to sell any particular drug, although he has to live with the consequences for his business if his choices irritate or offend his customers. Baker likens Anderson's policy to legal bans on contraception such as those faced by her great-grandmother, a German immigrant who had 13 children and died at 40. She calls the decision not to sell birth control a "radical tactic by the anti-choice hardliners to take away a woman's right to decide if and when to bring a child into the world." By this reasoning, an atheist bookseller's decision not to carry the Bible violates freedom of religion, and a sporting goods store's policy against selling guns violates the right to armed self-defense.
A couple years ago Kerry Howley discussed a similar controversy over emergency contraception (a.k.a. "the morning-after pill").
[Thanks to Dave Budge for the tip.]