Pharmacist taken to court over refusal to sell ‘morning-after pill’ has conscience rights protected by German court

A pharmacist who was taken to court because he did not wish to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ has had his conscience rights upheld by a German court. 

Andreas K. owned and operated a pharmacy in Berlin which neither stocked nor sold the ‘morning-after pill’. 

However, not long before his retirement in 2018, Andreas was reported to the Berlin Pharmacists’ Chamber over his desire to not sell the pill.

The chamber, which has a compulsory membership for every pharmacist in the state, then proceeded to initiate legal proceedings against Andreas at the Administrative Court of Berlin. 

In an encouraging ruling, the German court upheld the pharmacists right to act in accordance with his conscience. 

According to ADF International, who provided legal support to Andreas’ lawyer, the German court stated that the pharmacist had not neglected his professional duty and had the right to conscientiously object in such a situation. 

Felix Böllmann, Legal Counsel for ADF International said: “This is an encouraging decision by the court. It is a clear statement that the pharmacist had the right to act in line with his conscience and did not neglect his professional duty in doing so. The right to freedom of conscience must include the right to act accordingly. A free society relies upon its citizens acting conscientiously.”

The Pharmacists’ Chamber has appealed the decision, which is thought to be the first of its kind in Germany. 

In 2015, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a pharmacy that was fined €3,000 for opting not to sell the ‘morning-after pill’ despite a legal requirement to do so. 

According to the Telegraph, the court drew a parallel between the morning-after pill and abortion. The court ruled in its sentence that in this case, legally obligating the vendor to sell the product clashed “with the concept advocated by [the pharmacist] regarding the right to life.”

Medics may leave over NI’s extreme abortion proposals, warns letter signed by over 100 healthcare professionals

Over 100 health professionals have written to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Julian Smith, expressing concern over the new abortion framework for Northern Ireland.

It comes after the Northern Ireland Office’s consultation on the proposed abortion framework for the province, which goes far beyond what the Government was required to do by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, closed last night.  

In July, MPs at Westminster voted to impose Europe’s most extreme abortion law on the country.

The introduction of the new abortion framework is proposed to take place on March 31st 2020. This will follow the current ‘limbo period’ in Northern Ireland, following the change in the law on October 22nd, where there is now no law protecting the unborn child through to 28-weeks.

During this ‘limbo period’, there is only limited guidance from the Government recommending how abortion access should be provided during this period.

Now, 135 GPs, nurses, midwives, radiographers, pharmacists and medical students argue that the document is deeply flawed in how it deals with rights of conscience.

Conscientious protections are just one of our 18 shocking facts about the Government’s proposed abortion framework for Northern Ireland!

The healthcare professionals have written to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, saying they can no longer remain silent on the issue.

In their letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the medics say the Secretary of State must understand the concern felt by people in Northern Ireland, not only about the imposition of the new framework but also its “ham-fisted, overreaching and unwanted nature”.

The letter states: “Many healthcare professionals entered their profession because they desired to protect and uphold life… Consequently, many object to any involvement in abortion provision which by its very nature involves the ending of human life.”

The signatories note that although the abortion framework does not require conscientious objectors to participate in abortion procedures in a “hands-on” capacity, healthcare professionals may find it equally problematic to be asked to undertake ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks involved with abortion procedures. 

This mirrors current legislation in England and Wales, which doesn’t provide protection for medics who would choose not to participate in any tasks relating to an abortion procedure.  

“Performing such tasks may be key to an abortion taking place and could lead to the professional in question feeling they are complicit in something they believe to be deeply wrong,” they added.

“It may be the case that some excellent healthcare professionals, who have given their lives to helping patients, feel they have no choice but to leave the profession they love if they are mandated to act in a way which is contrary to their conscience.”

They added: “The Northern Ireland health system is under enormous strain at the current time.

“Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are struggling to find and retain staff.

“If this measure goes ahead as proposed in the consultation document, an additional barrier will be put up for staff who for understandable reasons conscientiously object to abortion.

“Such a move is unnecessary.

“The consultation document provides no evidence whatsoever as to the numbers of healthcare professionals who it is believed will object to providing abortion services.

“We urge the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider the position they are putting forward.

“It is possible to provide abortion services to all those who are seeking such services while respecting in a fulsome manner the rights of conscience of healthcare professionals.

“The value of life, the need to celebrate and accommodate conscientious objection, and the protection of the integrity of our democracy is too precious for us to remain silent,” the healthcare workers added.

Press Release: Right To Life Expresses Disappointment At Adoption of Conscience-Chilling New GPhC Standards

Right To Life (RTL) is expressing disappointment at today’s decision by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to adopt new professional standards that will undermine the freedom of conscience of pharmacists.

As RTL pointed out during the consultation period, this change will mean that pharmacists who ethically object to providing drugs that are abortifacient (cause a miscarriage) or are contragestive (prevent a conceived unborn child from implanting in her mother’s womb) will not be able to conscientiously object to being formally involved with that practice.

This choice by the GPhC ignores the public opposition to the proposed changes, which further narrow conscience protections for medical professionals just as the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2014 Doogan case did. Like that ruling, these new standards further emphasise the need for far better conscience protections to be established in law, so that fair and reasonable accommodation of those who practice medicine and reject the destruction of innocent human beings, can be established.

RTL Executive Officer Peter D. Williams said:

This is a small but significant backwards step for the conscience rights of medical professionals.

As Right To Life explained to the GPhC in our submission to their consultation, they had the choice to adopt similar standards to those of the General Medical Council (GMC), or indeed maintain the principles of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) statement on assisted suicide in 2013. Either would have allowed for no obligation to be made on any pharmacist to participate in any aspect of a procedure if he or she feels this is against their personal beliefs, whether by allowing them an ‘opt out’, whilst also requiring that they sensibly inform their employer and colleagues so as not to unduly disrupt the working environment or service of patients.

Instead, the GPhC have adopted a set of standards that betray those they are meant to serve and represent by showing no concern for the need to reasonably accommodate pharmacists with principled objections to contragestive or abortifacient drugs. This is an unnecessary and authoritarian move that I hope will be corrected, either by a reversal on the GPhC’s part, or more enlightened and liberal legislation securing the conscience rights of all those whose desire is to heal and not to harm”.

END

Action Alert: Respond To Anti-Conscience General Pharmaceutical Council

On March 07th, a consultation by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) will close that proposes to change the language in their ‘Standards’ (regulations) that will mean that pharmacists who ethically object to providing drugs that are abortifacient (cause a miscarriage) or contragestive (prevent a conceived unborn child from implanting in her mother’s womb) will not be able to conscientiously object to being formally involved with that practice.

As this proposal would be “a significant change” from current practice, the GPhC states that “it is vital that we hear from the public and the profession about this”. We agree. It is literally vital that as many right-to-lifers write to the GPhC in the time that is left to oppose the introduction of this new language.

Arguments against this can be made on the basis of:

  • The right of freedom of conscience as part of equality legislation protections in UK legislation.
  • The right of freedom of conscience as part of international standards.
  • The importance of medical professionals being able to practise according to conscientious principles, for patients and society at large.
  • The practically unhelpful nature of this proposed language for the pharmacy profession and the GPhC itself.

These arguments can be found in Right To Life’s own submission to the GPhC, and in our comment article by RTL Executive Officer Peter D. Williams based on the submission contents.

Supporters are welcome to take the arguments from the submission or article, re-write in their own words, and send using the consultation response form (see pg. 23 onwards) by e-mail to consultations@pharmacyregulation.org with the subject ‘Religion, personal values and beliefs consultation’.

You can also send your response by post to:
Religion, Personal Values and Beliefs Consultation Response
Policy & Standards Team
General Pharmaceutical Council
25 Canada Square
London E14 5LQ

Please act as soon as you can before March 07th to stand for the freedom of conscience of pharmacists who recognise, and in their professional lives practise respect for, the right to life of the most vulnerable human beings.