It always struck me as odd, the Bush administration’s vehement opposition to the reimportation of American-made pharmaceuticals from Canada, where they are often available for as little as half the U.S. price. The administration cites “safety concerns” as the reason it blocks Americans from buying drugs from other countries… a truly absurd notion when we’re talking about Canada for christsake.
Yeah sure, Canadians are technically foreigners… in the same way that the Scottish aren’t British and the Taiwanese aren’t Chinese. But to paint Canadians as “the other” is kind of like saying that North Dakotans are somehow less Dakotan than South Dakotans. I mean, let’s be honest… here in Seattle, we have a helluva lot more in common, culturally and politically, with our neighbors in Vancouver, British Columbia than with our fellow countrymen in say, Columbia, South Carolina.
It is thus laughable to “protect Americans” from half-priced statins, while a truly noxious Canadian import like Alan Thicke is permitted to freely cross the border.
Like most Democrats, I had simply dismissed the Republicans’ hard stance on Canadian drug reimportation as payback for millions of dollars in political contributions from a U.S. pharmaceutical industry eager to protect its huge profit margins. But recent events have suggested an ulterior, more devious motive.
Pharmacists across the nation are now refusing to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills and other forms of birth control, saying that dispensing such medications violates their personal religious beliefs.
An increasing number of clashes are occurring in drugstores across the country. Pharmacists often risk dismissal or other disciplinary action to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by sometimes-lecturing men and women in white coats.
“There are pharmacists who will only give birth control pills to a woman if she’s married. There are pharmacists who mistakenly believe contraception is a form of abortion and refuse to prescribe it to anyone,” said Adam Sonfield of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which tracks reproductive issues. “There are even cases of pharmacists holding prescriptions hostage, where they won’t even transfer it to another pharmacy when time is of the essence.”
That is what happened to Kathleen Pulz and her husband, who panicked when the condom they were using broke. Their fear really spiked when the Walgreens pharmacy down the street from their home in Milwaukee refused to fill an emergency prescription for the morning-after pill.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Pulz, 44, who with her husband had long ago decided they could not afford a fifth child. “How can they make that decision for us? I was outraged. At the same time, I was sad that we had to do this. But I was scared. I didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Legislatures in twelve states have already passed or are considering passage of “conscience clauses” to protect pharmacists who refuse to dispense medication they find personally objectionable. In many areas of rural America, where a trip to the next closest pharmacy might entail a 100-mile drive, this exercise of conscience on the part of the pharmacist can effectively trump the medical decision of doctor and patient. And with giant retailer Wal-Mart displacing small town pharmacies throughout the nation, millions of Americans could find their access to birth control and other medications resting in the hands of a single corporation… a corporation that has already proven itself sympathetic to, and easily cowed by, pressures from the extreme, religious right.
Make no mistake… the right-wing Christian fundamentalists who have seized control of the Republican leadership are not only intent on outlawing abortion, but most, if not all forms of birth control as well. And so it occurred to me… what is the use of limiting access to birth control in this country, if it can be easily purchased from our neighbors to the North?
Now some might think it a paranoid reach for me to conjecture that the current ban on reimportation of drugs from Canada is somehow connected to the religious right’s war on birth control. But it would be naive to believe that the Dobsons and Perkins and DeLays of this world aren’t at least as devious as me. It is hard to say to what degree the right’s moral agenda drives its unshakeable opposition to drug reimportation, but you can be sure that the thought has certainly crossed their minds. These are people, after all, who have shown themselves to be exceedingly imaginative at devising ways to impose their world view on others.
And so, while Bush is clearly a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, it is fair to wonder if there is more to his firm opposition to drug reimportation than meets the eye. This is a religious war… and as in all wars, it is of paramount importance to secure one’s own borders.