The Idaho House voted 48-21 today to allow pharmacists — but not pharmacist technicians or other staff members — to refuse to dispense prescribed medication based on religious or moral objections, despite arguments that said the law would have major unintended consequences for the elderly and for employers.
The bill, sponsored by Representative Thomas Loertscher, R-Iona, is widely believed to have been an attempt to limit the dispensation of medications such as the Plan B “morning-after” birth control pill, and received support from a number of conservative religious activists such as the Idaho Values Alliance and Idaho Chooses Life on that basis.
Debate on the bill was largely on a party-line basis, with Republicans such as Representative Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, and Representative Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, speaking in favor of the bill and a number of Democrats speaking against it, raising issues such as potential problems with a lack of medication, no requirement for a referral, no requirement for a 24-hour prescription to give the person a chance to find another pharmacist, and potential problems for employers.
Some arguments centered around the fact that pharmacists can already refuse to dispense based on conscience, according to the American Pharmacists Association; however, in that code of ethics, the pharmacist is also required to refer the patient to another pharmacist. The new law does not have any such provision, even if another pharmacist is on staff in the same facility, said Representative Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. Loertscher noted, however, that the law did not prohibit pharmacists from making such a referral.
Potential medical issues brought up included men who couldn’t get Viagra, elderly and disabled people who couldn’t get medication to extend their lives, and diabetics who couldn’t get insulin because it is produced from animals. Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, noted that “age and disability” had been removed from a section of the bill, and asked Loertscher why that was; Loertscher responded that he couldn’t imagine a pharmacist making a decision on that basis.
Burgoyne, an employment attorney, also raised a number of other issues for employers, such as that pharmacists weren’t required to notify their employers of their decision, that they could make the decision on the spur of the moment, and that it would require employers to inquire about employees’ religious and ethical beliefs.
Representative John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who is a physician, also pointed out that because the bill protected pharmacists from being sued based on their decisions, that the next likely target for a lawsuit would be physicians themselves.