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Spain’s Pharmacists Obliged to Dispense Emergency Contraception by Bridget Ryder

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Spain’s Pharmacists Obliged to Dispense Emergency Contraception

Spanish pharmacists are sounding the alarm on violations of their rights to conscientious objection in the government’s draft law on abortion.

The controversial new abortion law that President Pedro Sanchez’s government will bring to a vote in parliament in the coming months includes new rules for pharmacies regarding emergency contraception. Better known as the “morning after pill,” emergency contraception drugs provide a strong dose of hormones designed to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.

Among other changes to the current abortion regulations, the new law would add emergency contraception to the list of medicines that pharmacies are required to carry at all times and dispense. It would also make the medication available for free through the state health care system. Unlike other parts of Spanish law that mention the right of doctors to object to performing abortions on grounds of conscience, the new law does not specifically include the conscience rights of pharmacists, though several court cases have affirmed the right of pharmacists to morally object to providing certain medications. 

Sources from the Consejo General de Colegios Farmaécuticos (General Council of Pharmaceutical Colleges) told the Spanish newspaper ABC that “the current wording of the future law on voluntary interruption of pregnancy does not expressly contemplate conscientious objection to the dispensing of the morning-after pill, although it is protected by the Constitutional Court.” Pharmacists foresee that the law’s ambiguity will lead to court cases when a pharmacist’s conscientious objection—to carrying or dispensing the pill—conflicts with a customer’s request. The law, they argue, needs to explicitly include the right to conscientious objection by pharmacists, and they insist that the government take responsibility for creating mechanisms that guarantee access to the medication while protecting conscious objectors. 

“We believe that judicialization should be avoided. The text of the future law should include the right of pharmacists to conscientious objection for greater legal certainty for pharmacists and greater guarantees for citizens to always ensure their access to the pill,” the source also told ABC.

The more conservative professional association of pharmacists, Asociación Española de Farmacia Social (Spanish Association of Social Pharmacy) was harsher in its resistance to the draft law. It argues that since the government has now made the stocking and dispensation of emergency contraception mandatory, pharmacists may be subject to serious fines for not providing the medication. The law here clearly overrides the rights of pharmacists. Though the abortion law itself does not include any penalties for pharmacists, the law regulating obligatory medicines in pharmacies does, with penalties potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of euros. 

The association called the financial penalization “a clear attack on the freedom of conscience of the pharmacist,” recognized by the Constitutional Court in its Judgement of June 25, 2015. 

“This sentence admitted the right to conscientious objection of pharmacists, linked to the fundamental right to ideological freedom,” the source added.

Additional pharmacy sources consulted by ABC assured the newspaper that among Spain’s 22,000 pharmacies and 50,000 professionals, “there could definitely be conscientious objectors to dispensing emergency contraception” but not enough to make it difficult for a woman to access the medication.

Both the abortion law and the country’s new euthanasia law include provisions for a list of conscious objectors, supposedly as a means of guaranteeing access to the procedures by identifying the names of those who will not comply. Legal experts consider this a direct violation of a doctor’s right to conscientious objection. The lawyers argue, on the contrary, that to guarantee access, a list of those professionals willing to perform the contentious procedures or dispense certain medications should be made public.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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