Pharmacist Refusals and Third-Party Interests: A Proposed Judicial Approach to Pharmacist Conscience Clauses


The issue of pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control or emergency contraception recently has become a major debate in the battle over reproductive rights. Several states have enacted legislation to protect refusing pharmacists, and many more are considering such laws. I explore these new laws against the backdrop of the existing legal landscape governing the actions of pharmacists, including tort law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and free exercise jurisprudence. I then consider how courts might interpret refusal clauses upon which pharmacists may rely. I argue that courts should read pharmacist refusal statutes narrowly by limiting the protected act of conscience to the actual refusal to dispense medication, and not extending protection to behavior that could violate the pharmacist's duty of care to patients. Such an approach will not only minimize the impact of refusals on the interests of patients and employers, but will meld these new statutes with the existing legal framework addressing religious objectors, which has consistently shown concern for third-party rights.

About the Author

Senior Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 54. J.D. Candidate, UCLA School of Law, 2007; B.A., Stanford University, 2000.

By uclalaw