WASHINGTON – When members of Congress return to Washington in September they will begin considering a bill that will allow pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription if another worker at the same pharmacy can fill it.
Click in the box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Megyn Kendall.
The bill is targeted at the controversy over whether a pharmacist's moral beliefs should trump his professional duties.
"They're having to prescribe or to hand out medication that they believe to acutally be ending human life," said M. Casey Mattox, litigation counsel at the Christian Legal Society.
Pharmacists in at least a dozen states have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control and the so-called morning-after or Plan B pill, prompting efforts in the U.S. House and Senate to require that pharmacies accommodate their patients.
"We actually know women and have talked to women across this country whose birth control pills were denied because somebody just doesn't think that women should be taking birth control," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL-Pro Choice America.
The bill would allow a pharmacist to decline to fill a given prescription, but would place the burden on the store, not the patient, to get the prescription filled. Womens' rights advocates see the shift as critical, but others say it ignores the realities of small-town America.
"You don't have pharmacists standing in a position of standby, waiting to come and travel to another store to fulfill one person's prescriptions," said Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill.
Some women have complained that they've been lectured by objecting pharmacists. The bill would put an end to that as well.
"I shouldn't, as a mom, if I'm driving into my drive-through pharmacy, have to get into a moral debate with my pharmacist on the way to picking up my kids over whether I should have my birth control pills prescription filled," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
Similar laws have been passed or introduced in at least 35 states. Some require that the pharmacy accommodate the patient, some do not.
The American Pharmacists Association leaves the matter to a pharmacist's discretion, but Keenan, whose group supports the federal legislation, says that's an invitation to abuse.
"What's next? They're not going to give HIV and AIDS medication? Not going to give cholesterol medications because they think you should exercise a little bit more?" Keenan asked.
Mattox maintains that having zero tolerance for a pharmacists' personal views will cause an even bigger prescription problem.
"You'll have a Christian pharmacists, particularly — people who have consciencious objections — who will decide that if they can't have their conscience respected that they won't go into this profession," he said.
According to the legislation, pharmacies not in compliance would face a $5,000-a-day fine and could face civil lawsuits from patients.