There was, and maybe still is, some interest by a few Americans over the rash of so-called ‘religious freedom’ laws sweeping the nation after Indiana garnered national attention for its legalization of discrimination against gays and lesbians. Throughout the brief but intense controversy (Americans suffer short attention spans) over the evangelical edict, few if any Americans paid attention to pundits and commentary that laws like Indiana’s will adversely affect women more than the gay community; likely because Americans have even less concern about the rights of women than they do gays. Indiana’s law, like every other state religious freedom statute, has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with imposing evangelical rules on the rest of the population. This week a story in Georgia illustrates just how dangerous religious tyranny posing as religious freedom can be to the health of women.
In Milledgeville Georgia, a young woman looking forward to an addition to her family received some incredibly devastating news after a visit to her doctor; she had suffered a miscarriage after only six weeks of pregnancy. According to the woman, Brittany Cartrett, she had a tough decision to make whether to undergo an invasive surgical procedure known as a dilation and curettage (D&C or ‘rape and scrape’), risk a life-threatening infection, or choose an alternative treatment. In a D&C the patient is put under either general anesthetic or given an epidural and then the doctor dilates the cervix and inserts a special instrument (speculum) to scrape the uterine lining to remove tissue to prevent a dangerous infection. No matter how one looks at a D&C, it is an invasive surgical procedure that in Cartrett’s case was not the only or best option for her according to her treating physician.
With her doctor, Cartrett “made the decision to not do a D&C and to get a medicine instead. So he said I’m going to give you this medicine, you’ll take it, and it will help you to pass naturally so that you don’t have to go the more invasive route.” Sounds reasonable under the circumstances and not only did Cartrett not have to undergo the invasive surgical procedure and deal with the risk of bleeding, the financial cost was substantially less. So the doctor did what doctors do and phoned the Milledgeville Walmart pharmacy to fill the prescription for Cartrett. However, he was told that despite his valid license to practice medicine in Georgia, they would not honor his medical opinion and treatment and did not give a reason why they overruled his choice of medical treatment. The particular drug was Misoprostol which can also be used to induce abortions at an early stage in a pregnancy, but is regularly prescribed as an alternative to a D&C.
Subsequently, Cartrett said the doctor eventually found another pharmacy that acknowledged his medical expertise and would fill the prescription. Cartrett said, “I had to go up there to get another prescription anyway, so when I went up there she (the pharmacist) asked if I had any questions about this prescription. I said no I don’t, but I do have a question about the other one. She looks at my name and says ‘oh, I can’t think of a valid reason why you need this prescription‘.” One would think that a licensed physician phoning in a prescription was reason enough, but according to a Walmart pharmacist who was aware of the situation said that in Georgia, pharmacists “have the ability to turn down prescriptions at their own discretion.”
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According to a Mercer University Law Professor, Zac Buck, there has been a religious freedom (conscience clause) law in Georgia for about 15 years that give pharmacists’ personal religious beliefs supremacy over licensed physicians and the professional right to overrule the doctor and “turn down prescriptions” they believe are wrong for the patient without knowledge of the patient’s situation or medical history; religious people are apparently all-knowing according to Georgia law. A spokesman at Walmart’s corporate office, Brian Nick, said that “Our pharmacists fill prescriptions on a case by case basis every day in our stores throughout the country. We encourage them to exercise their professional judgment in doing so.” Translation; professional judgment is code for religion trumps a physician’s training making the evangelical pharmacist the arbiter of what constitutes necessary medical treatment.
Cartrett said the experience was “very frustrating because who is the pharmacist to make that decision? I’m not going to see that pharmacist, I’m going to see a doctor and if its due to the conscience clause I think it’s called; what other decisions are they making based on our health and our needs by not giving a prescription to someone who needs it?” Cartrett related that since posting her experience on social media she had several people “message her who were in similar situations who had to go to many, up to five, different pharmacies before they could get their medications.” These situations are not unique to Georgia, and with more stringent conscience clause (religious freedom) laws making their way through 23 Republican state legislatures, there will be more stories like Cartrett’s and certainly many will have deadly consequences.
This is just one example of why religious freedom laws are not about a person’s right to worship without government interference; they are about religious tyranny to control the lives, and in Cartrett’s situation her health, of all Americans. In this particular scenario it was about several evangelicals deciding what medication a physician is allowed to prescribe regardless the reason for the prescription. It is also a portent of what the rash of ‘religious freedom‘ laws making their way through 23 different states will mean for millions of Americans; subjection to the will of any number of evangelical service providers from pharmacists to physicians to emergency room staff to first responders to nurses to school personnel.
One hates belaboring a point, but it is noteworthy that none of the so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills making their way through Republican state legislatures ever mention the words discrimination or gay, but they all give free rein to evangelicals to refuse service to anyone on the basis of religion. The religious freedom laws are the ultimate ‘conscience clause‘ edicts that give anyone, whether they are members of a religion or not, legal cover to impose their will on other citizens if they claim their personal beliefs inform their actions; sadly the Papal-5 on the Supreme Court legalized this new form of religious tyranny.
Americans have not yet seen the scope or consequences of ‘religious freedom‘ evangelicals are going to impose on this nation, but they damn sure can rest assured that every American will be impacted at some point in the near future. It is due, in great part, to both apathy in the face of impending theocracy and the abject fear of Americans to condemn what very few citizens still believe will never happen in America; theocratic tyranny under the guise of religious freedom.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.