My View: The Turning Point
by John Lane, pharmacist and ADF client
Not long ago, John Lane found himself in a situation many can identify with, in a fast-changing culture increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs – a crisis of conscience. But while, for some, these crises are mostly matters of searching out a more comfortable philosophical position, for John, it meant something else – the very real possibility of losing his livelihood, uprooting his family, and re-routing the course of his life … all for the sake of defending his deepest beliefs.
It had been nagging me for some time … the conviction that, as a pharmacist dispensing prescription contraceptives, I was, in fact, fostering abortion.
As a committed Catholic, I found that hard to justify – even if I am the only pharmacist in my little Montana town of 450, a good 78 miles from the next nearest pharmacy.
So I’d been wrestling with my conscience for awhile, and events were making it harder for me to put off a decision. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer, along with several others, introduced a bill in Congress – the Access to Birth Control Act – requiring pharmacists, whatever their personal convictions, to sell all FDA-approved contraceptives (including the so-called “morning after” pill and others that act as abortifacients).
Several states were following that lead, and our own Montana legislature is expected to consider similar legislation during next year’s session. I could already see the handwriting on the wall.
That handwriting became more legible early last year, in Great Falls, Montana, where two Catholic couples decided, based on religious conviction, not to sell the contraceptives in their pharmacy. Their decision was thoroughly trounced in the
statewide papers. I remember reading about that and thinking, “A few other pharmacists better join them, or the legislature will write them off as a fluke.”
"Depending on [the Board’s] decision, I could wind up having to violate my deepest beliefs."
Then, on October 29 of last year, Pope Benedict spoke to an international conference of Catholic pharmacists, telling them that they need to work to preserve life and to educate people about the abortive effects of contraception.
I talked with the grocer who owned my pharmacy, sharing with him my convictions, and my concerns about the contraceptive. He said, “I don’t think we need to carry that here.” That, along with the Pope’s speech, settled it for me.
So that very week I took out a fullpage ad in our local paper, announcing that –effective January 1, 2008 – I would no longer fill prescriptions for contraceptives that abort. I sent a personal letter to every health care provider and every person for whom I’d filled a contraceptive prescription, explaining that I was doing this out of deference to my faith and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which specifically states that, “From its conception, the child has the right to life.”
“This is a very personal issue to each and every person,” I wrote. “I believe that each person is called to consider the issue and come to his or her own decision. I respect your decision and, if you would like, I will gladly transfer your prescription to the pharmacy of your choosing.
“Thank you,” I closed, “for taking the time to consider this issue. I appreciate you hearing me out and I ask not that you agree with me but only for your understanding.”
Understanding, mostly, is what I got. I’d estimate that informal support for my position ran about 10:1 in the community, although letters to the editor ran more like 50-50.
Then, just before Christmas, came notice that I was to appear before the Montana Board of Pharmacy. Eleven formal complaints had been filed against me. The Board has complete authority to control what’s done in the pharmacies of our state. Depending on their decision, I could wind up having to violate my deepest beliefs, leave my family to commute to another pharmacy job in another state, or train for a new career.
Someone passed along the name of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and a few days after Christmas, I sent them an e-mail, explaining in detail what had happened, and that I now had “a whole packet of complaints that needed to be responded to.” On New Year’s Eve, they contacted me to say they’d take my case.
I know that there are other Christian-oriented legal entities, but personally, I have been very impressed with the resources and organizational level of ADF. They not only linked me up with an ADF allied attorney, Matthew Monforton, who went with me to sit before the Board, but two ADF staff lawyers, Byron Babione and David Sheasby, helped me prepare my response materials. Between them, those three lawyers did a lot of legwork.
As it turned out, on the day of my appearance, none of the complainants showed up. Neither did their attorneys. The Board dismissed all charges.
I hope this particular ruling will foster an environment that honors the right of individual pharmacists to follow their conscience, but we won’t really know until the Montana legislature meets next session. What I do know is that, through ADF, God has restored my livelihood and my home. For that, as far as I’m concerned, the Alliance Defense Fund is a truly an instrument of God.