Women’s reproductive rights: arguable and absurd

I’ve cared about women’s reproductive issues since I was a little girl in a conservative Christian home. Then, of course, I was anti-abortion, because my parents were and my church leaders were and it seemed to me that they had a good point (killing babies is wrong, and unmarried people shouldn’t be having sex anyway.) Since then my views have become both more liberal and more nuanced, but I still have sympathy for what I consider the basic pro-life position: abortion is wrong except when medically necessary. I don’t agree with that position any more, but I understand the reasoning behind it, and it can be an intellectually and morally respectable position. In other words, it’s arguable.

I think there’s also an argument to be made for a pharmacist’s or medical provider’s right to refuse care that goes against their moral beliefs. Again, I don’t actually support this: I don’t think pharmacists should be able to refuse contraceptives, at least not unless they work at a special pharmacy with big signs that say “DOES NOT PROVIDE CONTRACEPTIVE CARE” or something like that (and are legally required to refer to another convenient location where service can be provided). But if someone disagrees, I think they have an arguable position. I can engage in a debate with them, and while it may get heated, I won’t feel intellectual or moral contempt for their position.

But there are a number of cases which have come to my attention recently which are not arguable at all. One is the Catholic hospital in Phoenix which was reprimanded and stripped of its status by the Catholic church for performing an abortion to save the mother’s life. Another is the pharmacist who refused to dispense anti-bleeding drugs unless the nurse disclosed (illegally) whether or not the patient had had an abortion. Both these cases are unarguable, unconscionable, and absurd. I cannot respect the intellectual or moral position that would argue them.

The Phoenix hospital case is simple. A mother is 11 weeks pregnant. She has a medical condition which has become critical. Her caregivers have two choices: abort and save the mother, or do nothing and let both mother and child die. This isn’t even a case of “baby or mother?” The baby, at 11 weeks, is entirely dependent on the mother’s life. If she dies, it dies. The baby is not going to live. How can anyone claim that there’s any moral choice but to mournfully, regretfully, end the baby’s life and save the mother’s? It makes me sick and angry that anyone can argue differently. I have no respect for them and their position.

Similarly for the pharmacist. Methergine, the drug in question, is commonly prescribed to stop or prevent uterine bleeding following childbirth, miscarriage, or abortion. The pharmacist was not asked to facilitate abortion or contraception: they were asked to provide care for a woman who had uterine bleeding. How her uterus came to be bleeding is absolutely none of the pharmacist’s business. In fact, under HIPAA, it is illegal for the woman’s care providers to tell the pharmacist, or anyone else, the details of her condition. So there’s a privacy problem first of all.

But beyond that is a much more troubling problem. The presumption is that if the woman had had an abortion, the pharmacist would have refused to dispense the drug. So… a woman who’s had an abortion can be refused medical care? “She had an abortion, so she can just hemorrhage to death for all I care”… that is what this pharmacist’s action is saying. Which is sick and gross and awful on every imaginable level.

In what other circumstances can you imagine a pharmacist trying to find out whether a patient has done something they consider immoral prior to filling the prescription? Even if they know the patient has done something they consider immoral which caused them to need medical treatment, they have no right to refuse treatment, and I can’t imagine a circumstance where they would. But this is a woman, and her uterus, and many people feel that a woman’s uterus is somehow public property, subject to different rules.

I can tolerate disagreement with people who have a different understanding of legally-protected human life than I do. I can tolerate disagreement with people who prioritize rights of care givers over rights of care receivers. I think they’re wrong, but they occupy an arguable position. The bishops who reprimanded the Phoenix hospital? The pharmacist who refused Methergine? Unarguable, intolerable, unconscionable. When I was a young pro-lifer, I had no idea that there were wackos like these on my side.

One thought on “Women’s reproductive rights: arguable and absurd

  1. What you’ve written here is exactly why I’m terrified of people like Sarah Palin. Back when her oldest daughter was pregnant, and people were asking what was her daughter’s stance on abortion, Palin responded “*I* would choose life.” I’ve also heard tell that she would make BC impossible to obtain unless you absolutely needed it for a medical condition. Amazing how we go to war with other countries for their treatment of women, yet certain peoples in this country want to make it so that we have no say over our physical being here?


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