When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling on Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, they tacitly approved the actions of the state of Washington, who is forcing pharmacy owners to sell abortifacient drugs against their religious beliefs. In that case, the Storman family would not stock two drugs that would cause abortion either days after or weeks after conception in their general stores, which included pharmacies because they held life begins at conception.1 However, Washington state passed laws specifically targeting religious pharmacy owners, forcing them to sell the drugs according to a 2012 Federal court ruling.2
The Stormans' case has its critics. Someone recently commented on an article I wrote concerning the case. She felt that the choice of the pharmacy to not stock the drugs was what was limiting freedom:
How is it that you see it as ok for a pharmacist to second guess a prescription ordered by a doctor? The pharmacist is not the one treating the patient, he has not evaluated the patient and likely has no knowledge of other conditions the patient may have. If the pharmacist has a problem with a d[r]ug a doctor prescribes he should discuss it with the doctor, just as he does when he catches a potentially dangerous drug interaction that the doctor may have missed. It seems highly unprofessional to just refuse to fill the prescription.I simply replied that her description of the situation was euphemistic. I noted the drugs weren't simply a "prescription ordered by a doctor." They were designed for a very specific purpose: to cause an abortion. I also noted that a prescription is not sacrosanct. I would have a problem selling drugs designed for the purpose of euthanasia, which is also wrong. She challenged my objection, stating:
When a person, in consultation with their doctor, decides that ending their own life or terminating a pregnancy is the best course of action for their unique situation, what make you think that you know better?There are two problems with such a question. First, it seems to assume that ethics are only situational and closed to only those who know the intimate details of the situation. But that isn't true at all. Imagine if I were to say "If a person in consultation with their doctor decides that killing their two year old is the best course of action for their unique situation, what makes you think that you know better?" Such a question would rightly be considered absurd. In such a circumstance it isn't necessary we know all the details; killing an innocent human being is wrong full stop. Unique circumstances don't change that.
Who Gets to Decide What's Moral?But this isn't even the main problem in the Stormans' case. I get that my interlocutor holds a different points of view on abortion. At issue in the Stormans' case is the right of individuals to freely follow their consciences and their religious beliefs. By forcing them to sell drugs they see as immorally ending a life, the state deems its own interpretation of morality more valid than that of its constituents. This is wrong. It is well within one's rights to not engage in commerce when it violates one's conscience on clear grounds.
I can offer a real world example to make my point. Capital punishment has been authorized in 31 states with lethal injection being the primary way the sentence is carried as the Supreme Court declared a three-drug cocktail as being legally acceptable.3 However, many activists both here and across Europe object to any form of capital punishment. Pressure from several European countries has led drug manufacturer Pfizer to not allow its drugs to be used in lethal injections.4
These are almost parallel situations. According to the logic of the 9th Circuit ruling, Pfizer should be legally compelled to sell its drugs to all states for use in lethal injections. Who is Pfizer to override the will of the people who voted in capital punishment? How can any activist who is believes capital punishment is morally wrong and applied pressure to Pfizer to stop selling the drugs to correctional facilities claim that other companies must be forced to sell abortifacients to whomever walks in off the street?
Should State Fiat Overrule Conscience?Of course, even in this instance, Stormans' has the more defensible position. While Pfizer's primary motivation for banning the purchase of its drugs for lethal injection is economic (Pfizer doesn't want to lose the significant customers of several European national health systems), the motivation for the Stormans family is based on strongly held personal conviction which could actually cause them to lose money by not making a sale.
If the Washington case is indicative of how matters on conscience are to be treated in the future, all Americans can be forced to participate in actions they deem immoral. If the state gets to decide which moral issues may be worthy for objection and which hold mandatory participation, then it isn't our consciences that matter. We become the pawns of the state; which is the very thing our founders fought against.
2. Harkness, Kelsey. "Alito: Value Religious Freedom? You Should Be Worried." The Daily Signal. The Heritage Foundation, 28 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016. http://dailysignal.com/2016/06/28/justice-alito-those-who-value-religious-freedom-have-cause-for-great-concern/.
3. "States and Capital Punishment." National Conference of State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 July 2016. http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/death-penalty.aspx.
4. Eckholm, Eric. "Pfizer Blocks the Use of Its Drugs in Executions." New York Times. The New York Times Company HomeSearchAccessibility Concerns? Email Us at Accessibility@nytimes.com. We Would Love to Hear from You., 13 May 2016. Web. 28 July 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/us/pfizer-execution-drugs-lethal-injection.html.