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Culture war hits local pharmacy

Many druggists across the country refuse to give out morning-after pills. Legislators weigh in.

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The culture wars have already seeped into hospices, movie theaters, and the Super Bowl. Now, even the corner drugstore has become a battleground.

From rural Texas to Chicago, more instances are cropping up of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives and the morning-after pill. As a result, politicians around the country are stepping into the fray.

It's a debate that weighs personal morals against professional responsibility. It pits religious rights against patients' rights and raises the question of just where pharmacists stand on the spectrum of health-care professionals.

Many pharmacists point to the "conscience-clause" exceptions that nearly every state has in place for doctors, allowing them to recuse themselves from performing abortions or other procedures they object to. They believe they should have similar protection.

Critics point out that filling a prescription is a very different job from writing one, and question whether pharmacists can deny a legal drug on moral grounds. And the patients who have been denied are simply angry to see their prescriptions become fodder for a public debate - especially when the prescriptions they wanted filled were for something as time-sensitive as emergency contraceptives, often known as the morning-after pill.

"Most observers seem to say it [refusing to give out contraceptives] is picking up, and there seems to be a more organized campaign to allow pharmacists to refuse," says Adam Sonfeild, an analyst with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health issues.

And as the issue gets more attention, politicians are weighing in - on both sides:

• In Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) last week issued an executive rule clarifying his view of state law: Any pharmacy that sells contraceptives must promptly fill a woman's prescription for them.

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