- (Photo: AP Images / Mel Evans, file)
Both Italian and Chilean governments have told pharmacists that they are obligated to dispense drugs such as the morning after pill even if it means violating their moral beliefs.
The warnings are in response to Pope Benedict XVIs address before an international conference Monday urging pharmacists to exercise a "conscientious objection" to dispensing drugs that would block pregnancy, induce an abortion or assist euthanasia.
Italian Health Minister Livia Turco said the popes call should be ignored and that the pope had no right to tell pharmacists what to do.
"I don't think his warning to pharmacists to be conscientious objectors to the morning after pill should be taken into consideration," she told daily Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Lidia Menapace, a senator of the Communist Refoundation party, criticized the popes appeal to pharmacists to refuse dispensing the morning after pill as a very heavy interference in politics and Italian life.
In his address, Benedict had described a conscientious objection as a "right that must be recognized for your profession so you can avoid collaborating, directly or indirectly, in the supply of products which clearly have immoral aims."
However, the Italian law does not recognize such a right and requires pharmacists to fill all prescriptions.
"We can't be conscientious objectors unless the law is changed," said Franco Caprino, head of pharmacists' professional group Federfarma, in a Reuters report.
But Pietro Uroda, the president of the Catholic Union of Italian Pharmacists, considered a combination of laws and rules that would permit the practice conscientious objection.
He pointed to article 54 of the Italian penal code, which he says states that if someone violates the law in order to save another person he is exempt from punishment; if it is for a greater good.
Therefore, in order to save the embryo we reject selling the morning after pill, argued Uroda. If the embryo as it is already scientifically proven is a human life, we think it should be helped and defended.
The Chilean government, which allows girls aged 14 and over the right to the morning after pill free of charge and without parental consent, has also issued a response to the popes speech, which was made at the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists.
Chilean Deputy Health Minister Lidia Amarales warned that the government would be prepared to close a pharmacy that refused to sell the morning-after pill, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.
Three of the major pharmacy chains had not been selling the pill, citing the lack of locally available stocks. The government responded by importing supplies and then said the stores now had no excuse for not selling the pill.
One chain, Salcobrand, said the government's actions were a violation of its freedom of opinion about the pill which it said was abortive.
"We express conscientious objection to being forced to sell a product that can have that effect," the company said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.
In the United States, pharmacists in states including Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota may refuse to dispense the morning after pill, a concentrated version of a regular birth control pill, that prevents the sperm from fertilizing an egg. Some states like California allow pharmacists to refuse only with employer approval.
The emergency contraception is supported by U.S. family planning groups but criticized by religious groups for promoting more risky sexual behavior among teens.