Limiting availability of contraception – proceeding a draft law on conscience clause for pharmacists

The Polish Bureau of Research (BAS) has positively evaluated a draft law that would introduce conscience clause for pharmacists and owners of drug stores. According to the law elaborated and delivered by the Federation of Polish Catholic Pharmacists they will have rights  1) to refuse to sell drugs should they be incompatible with their conscience and 2) not to order such drugs. In practice, only procreation-related medicines are in contradiction to conscience clause. Therefore, the law is supposed to restrict the access to contraception, thus breaching women’s reproductive rights.

It is worth mentioning that currently pharmacists do break the law and decline to sell contraception, despite the fact that only doctors, nurses and midwives are entitled to the conscience clause. 

The draft law provides one exception – medicaments must be given out when customer’s life or health is threatened.  Independent experts, however, argue that the draft law is a legal nonsense and that it does not guarantee that this exception will be followed, e.g. when a medicine is not in stock. There are no provisions that specify whom the customer can turn to make up their prescriptions. In small towns/villages or in conservative regions, where invoking the conscience clause is already common, women willing to obtain contraceptive pills or emergency contraception will be helpless, whereas their health and lives endangered. Moreover, this law hits less well-off persons who will face additional obstacles when searching for available pharmacists.

The Bureau of Research has decided to send a desideratum to the Ministry of Health. However, Minister Radziwiłł has already publicly supported introduction of the conscience clause for pharmacists. Respective interventions undertaken by the Commissioner for Human Rights to protect patient’s rights were also unsuccessful, since his arguments for limiting the conscience clause in pharmacies were rejected by the Ministry. In January the Petitions Committee has again supported the draft law and appealed in a desideratum to the new Minister (Szumowski) to analyse how conscience clause for pharmacists could be technically introduced into the law emphasizing the need of such change. The transcript of the committee’s session clearly states that if the Ministry refuses to take steps in this issues, than the committee will introduce the bill for a further discussion in the parliament.

It is a matter of time when the proposal of the Federation of Polish Catholic Pharmacists will come into force.