Zan posed an excellent question in response to my post about the Target kerfuffle. She asks why is it a big deal for a woman to have to go across town to another pharmacy to fill her prescription for Emergency Contraception (EC) in order to accommodate the pharmacist’s sincerely held religious belief that it is wrong to dispense EC. I like this question because it goes right to the heart of the common perception that feminists (especially American feminists!) are merely selfish people with an overweening sense of entitlement.
This isn’t a personal issue for me at all. Since my husband and I are unable to conceive, I doubt I will ever have any need for EC or any other form of contraception. Nonetheless, I take the pharmacy issue seriously for a number of reasons.
For many women, it’s not simply a matter of driving five minutes across town. Out west, in places like Montana and Texas, there are all sorts of tiny little towns surrounded by nothing but empty highway. There is a significant population of rural women who will be left high and dry if their local pharmacist won’t give them the drugs they need.
There are also some heavily Christian and conservative parts of the U.S., the so-called “Bible Belt.” I could conceive of a woman living in an area where none of her local pharmacies will dispense EC.
The prospect of a national chain declining to provide birth control scares me. I always used to figure that even if a local Christian pharmacy declined to dispense EC, most women would be able to find their way to a Wal-Mart or some other national store. That’s why Target’s policy is a big deal.
Many women who buy EC need it because it’s an emergency. They have made a mistake or they have been raped. Forcing a panicked woman to run around town trying to find a cooperative pharmacist will only add to whatever trauma she is already experiencing. (Some have noted that a woman who reports a rape should be able to get EC through her local ER. But, sadly, many women choose not to report rape. And what about the ER worker who has a moral objection to providing EC?)
I also hate the idea of women being subject to what Amanda at Pandagon calls “slut shaming.” There is a history in our culture of shaming women for having sex. There is the scarlet letter, the double standard, the virgin/whore dichotomy. Allowing pharmacists to decline service to women on the basis of moral objections provides one more avenue for those who would try to shame women.
I believe that pharmacists and corporations should have the right to take whatever moral position they want. But, as a consumer, I also have the right to object. I want to live in a society where women can freely obtain EC whether they are in downtown New York City or rural Idaho. That’s why the Target issue is a big deal to me: it’s far more than just a matter of one woman having to be momentarily inconvenienced.