As soon as the e-mail crossed my computer screen, I knew we had a hot-button issue. The subject line said: Planned Parenthood complaint letter to Board of Pharmacy. Read the story here and see the complaint. But the more I dug into the issue, the more troubled I became.
Do you remember the law that the Idaho Legislature adopted in 2010?
Dubbed the Idaho Conscience law, the law protects health care workers, including pharmacists, in situations that violate their consciences on matters like emergency contraception or advising dying seniors on last wishes.
Gov. Butch Otter didn't sign the bill. He didn't veto it either. According to the Idaho Press-Tribune, Otter said he was torn and urged legislators to continue to tinker with the bill.
"Forcing health care professionals to provide services they find morally objectionable is unacceptable," he wrote in a message to lawmakers explaining his decision not to sign the bill. "However, negatively impacting patients' rights - especially when it comes to end-of-life decisions - is equally problematic."
The bill became law and was aimed specifically at the drugs that ended life.
This complaint is not about a drug that ended life. It's about a drug that treats uterine bleeding or migraine headaches.
Here's the deal, according to the complaint:
Planned Parenthood filed a complaint with the Idaho Board of Pharmacy, stating that a pharmacist at the Walgreens store, located at the intersection of Midland Boulevard and the Nampa-Caldwell Boulevard asked questions that violated a patient's federally protected privacy rights.
The practitioner was prescribing Methergine, the brand name for methylergonovine maleate. The drug was originally developed for the treatment of postpartum bleeding. That can be after a normal pregnancy, a miscarriage or an abortion. The drug also is used to prevent or treat headaches and migraines.
The pharmacist asked if the patient had undergone an abortion. The practitioner did not want to violate the patient's right for confidentiality.
The pharmacist hung up and the practitioner found another drug store that handled the prescription with no problem.
Twenty-nine years ago this month, I miscarried. I developed an infection and had to have a D&C procedure. It's common after a miscarriage, but I remember the nurses kept saying to me: "Oh, you are here for an abortion."
They meant no harm, but I was a mental mess. After wanting a baby for so long, I lost it too early.
Technically, abortion means ending a pregnancy. A miscarriage does that.
I did not have an abortion. I lost my baby. And I was broken-hearted. And I told the nurses that. A week later, I marched in the annual Pro-Life March in Boise because it was so important to me, personally. I felt that I had to make a statement.
The drug is prescribed to postpartum bleeding patients. That could have been me. Forget the fact that the phone call came from a Planned Parenthood practitioner. It could have been me.
It could have been you.
I might have needed that drug to stop the postpartum bleeding. You might need the drug some day for the same reason.
I share this private part of my past, because if I had to pick up this prescription the same pharmacist could refuse me service. Imagine the mental trauma that I would have endured on top of already a very emotional state.
I can certainly understand why a pharmacist might object to handing out the morning-after pill. The law protects people who live by a moral code. The drug is not administered as an "abortion" pill.
It shouldn't matter to the pharmacist why the drug is being prescribed.
I'm not stupid. I realize that the patient had probably just undergone an abortion. But that's not what this issue is about. It's also not about the pharmacist's right to decline his/her right to provide services that assist in ending a life.
The life already ended. The woman needed something to stop the bleeding. The pharmacist overstepped the line.
Gov. Otter was right in March 2011 when he refused to sign the bill, but he was wrong to let it become law. The law needs to be more specific, and it should not have such a far-reaching effect on drugs that are administered for other reasons.
It was not an abortion drug.
Next time it could be you.
The law needs to be fine-tuned.
Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook comments on newspaper issues, explains our decision-making processes or passes on insight, background or insider information that doesn't make it into print.
Even more importantly, it gives you, our readers and Web visitors, a chance to ask questions and offer feedback in an open forum.
Vickie has worked at the Idaho Press-Tribune for 31 years, starting as a reporter. She was named editor in 1996.
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