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S.D. law gives pharmacists a 'conscience clause'

Four states have such a contingency

For pharmacists who are morally opposed to birth control, South Dakota is a good place to work.

South Dakota is one of four states with a "conscience clause" that allows pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency-contraception drugs known as "Plan B."

South Dakota's law states: "No pharmacist may be required to dispense medication if there is reason to believe that the medication would be used to: 1) cause an abortion; or 2) destroy an unborn child as defined in subdivision 22-1-2(50a); or 3) cause the death of any person by means of an assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing."

South Dakota law defines an "unborn child" as "an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth."

"The law essentially says the pharmacist has the right not to fill a prescription," said Ron Huether, executive secretary for the South Dakota Board of Pharmacy. "And it can be for various reasons."

A pharmacist might refuse to fill a prescription he or she believes has been forged, for instance, or one that calls for a dosage he or she believes could harm the patient. But when does the pharmacist's effort to protect a patient from harm become instead a reflection of his or her own personal beliefs?

"That's where it gets hard to draw the line," Huether said. "The pharmacist is supposed to use their professional judgment. … It's hard to set the boundaries on that."

To some extent, whether a pharmacy stocks a certain medication is a business decision. Small-town pharmacists tell Huether there's no reason for them to stock the "day-after pill." In a town where everybody knows everybody, any woman who wanted the drug would go elsewhere to buy it, they say.

Although South Dakota pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for moral or religious reasons, many believe they should also fulfill their responsibility to their customers and to their profession by providing customers with other alternatives.

"I believe that's the moral obligation of the pharmacist, if they choose not to fill (a prescription), is to say, 'Here's where you can,'" Huether said.

Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or

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