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The Seattle Times

Denial of Contraception Is Immoral

Catherine Fransson and Jamal Rahman

Late last year, a federal judge granted an injunction allowing pharmacists in Washington to deny access to a valid, legal prescription, if they chose.

We believe the decision is wrong and are pleased it is being appealed.

While the decision means that a pharmacist can deny filling any prescription - including one for antidepressants, syringes for insulin, or AIDS drugs - the medication most often referred to in the case is emergency contraception and, specifically, the brand Plan B.

As pastoral caregivers, we see the sad consequences of unintended pregnancies. We know that birth control such as emergency contraception is basic health care for women. We teach that the gift and responsibility of reproductive choice is the woman's and should not be usurped.

When a woman finds herself in a difficult time of life - such as when there has been a sexual assault or a contraception failure - clergy are often the first to be called upon to respond.

As clergy of differing faiths and diverse backgrounds, we believe in the imperatives of all Holy Scriptures that we are to care for the most vulnerable in our society, placing their needs above our own.

To restrict access to birth control deprives a woman of the ability to make critical decisions about when and whether to start a family ultimately, rendering her powerless to fulfill her potential in terms of her education, career and family life.

We know how important it is for a woman to have immediate access to emergency contraception. Studies show that emergency contraception is most effective when taken as soon as possible after intercourse. The Food and Drug Administration, through its medical and scientific staff, has determined that emergency contraception is not an abortion product and has approved its sale as preventive medication.

Pharmacists who refuse to provide emergency contraception disrespect liberty of conscience and a woman's right to follow her faith's instruction. Far worse, their practices endanger the physical and emotional well-being of women and families.

Referring a woman to another pharmacy isn't a reasonable option for many, especially as emergency contraception is a time-sensitive medication. The next pharmacy may be hours away, she may not have transportation or the money to get to another pharmacy, and she might be refused at the next pharmacy, too.

We believe women should be able to have their valid prescription for birth control filled without facing discrimination or delay. Women deserve access to reproductive health-care options, in accord with their religious teachings, without judgment or verbal intimidation.

To deny a woman the chance to prevent an unintended pregnancy is immoral because it deprives her of the right to determine what is best for her and for other important people in her life.

The Rev. Catherine Fransson is a pastor at Seattle First Baptist Church. Jamal Rahman is a Sufi minister in Seattle.

Twenty-two clergy members across the state signed on to this guest column.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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