Friday, January 13, 2006
The right to legal abortion is a very old debate in this country; likewise the debate over birth control. Condoms seemed to be the one method of birth control that we not only agree upon but also find amusing. Condom jokes abound; even a few prophylactic brand names were included in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. Bart chants an incantation from a book that reads: Trojan, Ramses, Magnum, Sheik!
It may surprise you to know that condoms have been around since about, oh let's say 1000 B.C and their usage has been depicted in cave paintings. You would think that with a history this long, the use of condoms would be taken for granted. As a matter of fact, I've taken for granted a lot of things regarding being a woman. Being able to get birth control pills, condoms, the Today Sponge and in the extreme, an abortion if that is what I decide to do. However, the research I have done since posted Part I of Denied has taught me one lesson.
Women take their reproduction rights for granted at their own peril. Think again if you believe that denials are rare, or could never happen to legal adults in Ohio or Cincinnati. If it's up to people like Karen Brauer, women's access to the pill, let alone abortion would be illegal. At this rate it won't be long before condoms or "the sponge" are questioned as well.
"Denied, Part I" details an incident I witnessed where a 16-year-old young woman was denied the right to buy condoms at a local store. At the time I was outraged but while I wrote out Denied, I realized that I had more questions than answers. There were many things I didn't understand and needed to find out.
So, I went back and talked to the store owner
He was very skittish and at first I thought he was going to simply leave me standing there. He would not allow me to talk to him elsewhere, not even a secluded area of the store. We carried on this breezy conversation about his condom selling policy in full earshot of anyone who entered or exited. He did, however, answer a few of my questions.
I asked him again why he had refused to sell the young woman condoms. As in our initial confrontation, he reiterated that he knew the young woman's family. I waited for more but along with her age, he seemed to feel that this was reason enough. I asked him if he really felt that refusing to sell condoms would keep a young person from having sex? He said he wasn't sure but that he hoped it would at least "make them think twice."
I asked him would he have turned a boy away. He told me a brief story about a young boy on a bicycle who wanted to buy condoms but was also turned away. He did not have an approximate age, but from the bicycle reference, I'm assuming middle school age or younger.
Again, he was very nervous and this interview was very hasty. When I first came in and reminded him of who I was and stated what I was there for he asked me, "Are you related to her?" he asked, meaning the young women he had denied the condoms. I told him that the young woman and I were no relation but that I simply wanted to ask a few questions about the incident. He asked me why and I made up a fictional college assignment. I felt bad lying to him, but I felt he would have bolted otherwise. My intention was to get him to commit to a sit down session, but I saw that it was then or never.
My last question to him was, "Are you aware that you she had previously purchased condoms in your store?" He immediately looked at the clerk who was obviously listening in because se immediately chimed in, "I didn't sell them to her."
I informed him that it was actually his son who had sold the condoms to this particular customer. I also informed of that I had driven her to another store. He seemed surprised, but he made no other comment. At this point, I found myself angry for several reasons, but I kept my temper this time. He was inching away from me so I said my goodbyes and left the store.
Even though our interview was brief, I think I gleaned quite a bit of information from our exchange.
The store owner was very surprised when I showed up again. He was also very hesitant to answer my questions or defend is position. At one point I asked him if he knew whether there was a minimum age to buy condoms or not? He actually picked up a condom box and said, "Well there's really no information on the back that says so either way."
This let me know several things. Far from knowing or caring to find out whether he had the right to refuse the sale of condoms to anyone, he simply did so because he felt like it. He didn't think minors should have sex and by his logic, if he doesn't sell them condoms, then they won't. He also actively demands that his employees to follow his agenda to the point where they feel they have to defend themselves for a perfectly legal sale. He also had made no effort to find out whether his actions were legal or not. He knows now, because I told him of my phone call to Planned Parenthood and the resulting information that there is no minimum legal age to buy condoms in the U.S. I wonder if he has conveniently forgotten that information or if he even cares.
My next call was to a long time friend who is a pharmacist and manager of a local drugstore. He also happens to be a devout Christian and I wanted to know his views on this subject.
What I thought would be a ten minute conversation lasted over an hour and I learned several disheartening things in the course of our interview, mainly that even the people with the best of intentions, may still be complicit in denying birth control to women
Imagine that you've worked all day, you're headed home, you remember that you've taken your last birth control pill and must stop for a refill. You walk up to the counter and only one pharmacist is on duty and that one pharmacist refuses to refill your birth control prescription because of their religious beliefs. You ask if there is another pharmacist available and they tell you no.
I talked to a long-time friend that I'll refer to here as J. J is currently a pharmacist and manager of a local drugstore. He achieved his Pharmacological M.D. in the University of Cincinnati's five-year program studying anatomy, physiology, biological science, biochemistry, pharmacological studies and human development. According to J, the pharmacist is supposed to do several things. They should first be polite, apologetic and firm in their refusal. They should also refer the patient to the nearest pharmacy available, phone in the prescription to the other pharmacy and offer directions there. They should also return the prescription to the patient.
J informed me that drugstores are not required to keep two pharmacists on staff, even if they know that the pharmacist on staff could possibly refuse to dispense a legal prescription to a patient. Of course, most women are not told about the religious or moral objection reasoning. They are merely told, with the sanction of their managers and the company, that the prescription they need is not in stock.
I bristled at this asking, "You encourage the pharmacists to lie?" He insisted that it was simply a precaution taken if they felt the customer might become angry. I asked him if he felt the customer had the right to be angry for being refused or lied to. He said yes, but he was also trying to keep a calm store environment for the other customers as well.
I find this more than a bit of a double standard. I feel that pharmacists should not cite "moral objections" as a reason for not dispensing birth control and then commit the immoral act of lying about it; neither should the drugstore management or owners accomplice their lie. If someone is willing to go to the extent of inconveniencing a customer, making them find another pharmacy, and generally, in some cases endangering the patients health and/or well being, then maybe, just maybe, that pharmacist should be willing to take the heat and tell the truth. J insisted that telling the out-of-stock "white lie" was better than angering the customer.
To his credit, J stated that he would never turn a patient away for a legitimately acquired prescription. J further stated that professionally, the only reasons to turn a patient away would be for incorrect dosing or if a prescription had been tampered with (i.e. patient has changed the quantity or dosage).
I asked J if he felt that pharmacists who refuse to fill a prescription deserve to keep their jobs and he surprised by saying "Yes. There are some darned good pharmacists out there." I wanted to know what makes a pharmacist "good", especially one who refuses to do part of what their job requires.
"Well, a good pharmacist looks out for their patient. They have low error rates and are able to spot possible problems with drug interactions or dosage errors. They provide good follow up and have good accuracy rates. They also provide good customer service." I grumbled my skepticism over the customer service bit, but let it lie. I asked him his personal view about pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions. J stated that although they have a right to their views, he wished that they would take his approach of providing empathy and professionalism, again, not letting their personal opinions cloud their professional duty. He also stated that as a manger and a pharmacist, he also feels "stuck in the middle" between the rights of the patient and the conscience of the pharmacist.
1. There is no legal minimum age to buy condoms.
2. Minors DO NOT need parental consent to buy or obtain condoms.
Now that we know this, what do we do. First, I, again, am going to make sure that the store owner gets both of these articles and the above message.
I find this apalling and frightening because I really don't see how long it will be before mentail health patients can't get medicine for whatever ails them; or how long will it be before overweight people can't get diet pills because some moral arbiter thinks they should lose weight "the way God intended".
Refusal of service should not be taken lightly. If you work in the public sector, then be prepared to serve the public and keep your moralistic judgments to yourself.