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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Let's talk about moral exemptions...

Hello, Darlings. Semi-longish time, no Unicorn, I know. Trust me, I know.

So many things have been happening in the world, so many topics flying by that have really moved me, in both positive and negative ways. Marriage equality gaining ground. Protections for trans*folk seeming to rally and then losing ground. Pizza places being boycotted (and threatened, which is a real no-no in my book, Darlings) for saying they would discriminate against same-sex couples and then raising $800K+ from sympathizers. Charities throwing pizza parties in retaliation to raise money for equality and safe treatment of LGBTQ kids. 

Lots happening in the world, and while some of it tempted me to pick up my pen again, I managed to refrain, knowing that I would merely be railing at the sky, and probably expressing venom and rage instead of contributing productively to the conversation.

Today, however, a story crossed the FB feed of Yours Truly that really caught my eye. I had intended to just share the article (with the addition of a caustic comment or two) and then move on, but the comment turned into an outpouring, and - voila! - here we are again. 

What finally broke my silence? An article titled "Woman Suffering Miscarriage Says WalMart Refused to Fill Her Prescription".

Yes, friends and neighbors, today we're going to talk about that much-beloved (by some) "legal license to discriminate", the moral and/or religious exemption clause. This is the new weapon being wielded against LGBTQ folk in what I feel is direct retaliation for the wins we've recently had on the long and winding road to equality. With one hand, lawmakers respond to the voices of thousands demanding equal treatment for ALL humans (an outlandish proposition, I know) by removing bans on same-sex marriage in many states, and with the other they slap us all across the face by making it legal (and therefore tacitly condoning) for businesses and persons to refuse service based solely on their own personal feelings about what is right and what is wrong.

"But Unicorn," I hear you cry. "Why does that matter? Shouldn't a business or a person have the right to choose who they will serve? Don't they all have the right to refuse service if they so choose?"

Well, yes and no. Let me explain:

A business that serves the public at large has the right to deny service to any person or persons who are, at that moment, doing something that causes them to be refused. Examples of such circumstances might be a person who is behaving abusively or violently, a person without shirt or shoes in a restaurant, etc. If your favorite sparkly Unicorn were to walk into a bar (that sounds like the lead-in to a really funny joke, but I digress) and begin grabbing people's drinks and throwing them into their faces, or begin speculating creatively on the sexual practices and proclivities of the bartender's mother, the bar would have excellent reason to deny me services. (Not to mention that I would very likely be much too busy having my tail kicked to have time for drinking.) So, that's an appropriate example of an establishment or business denying service to someone.

If I walked into the same bar (at the start of a very different joke), asked politely for a rum-and-coke, and the bartender responded, "The hell with you, queer. Get the hell out!", that would be an example of an inappropriate denial of service. The same would be true if there were little signs on the door reading "No Gays" or "Straight People Only". (And does that remind anyone of a little thing called segregation? No? Try substituting 'Blacks' for 'Gays', or 'White' for 'Straight' and you'll get there. Let me know when you've caught up.)

"But what's the difference?!", you ask. "Aren't those both the same thing? A business denying service?"

No. And again, emphatically, NO. And here's why:

In the first scenario (the one where I was acting like a flaming asshole and got my ass kicked), they were (rightly) denying service to one person - me - who was behaving inappropriately at the time.

In the second, the business is denying service to an entire group or class of people, rather than treating them as individuals and basing the decision to serve or not to serve on each person’s behavior at the time, and that, Darlings, is called discrimination. (Say it with me, won’t you? Good. I knew you could!)

So, why does this matter? If one restaurant wants to discriminate against same-sex couples and refuse to cater a same-sex wedding, who cares? The couple could easily call another pizzeria that would be more than happy to cater them. (And are there really that many same-sex couples dying to serve pizza to their wedding guests?)

Unless it's this culinary delight, in which case I'll take 3...

Excellent question. The pizza doesn’t matter. One restaurant or one flower shop or one wedding-cake bakery doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, and I, for one, would be happier choosing businesses that do NOT discriminate to take care of my special day, were I to have one. I agree that I wouldn’t want to force any business to cater my wedding, etc., because I’d rather not have that bigotry and hatred around me.


(And you knew there’d be one, didn’t you? If not, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write this post in the first place.)

The ‘but’ here, Darlings, is that it isn’t just pizza places that are covered by these moral and religious exemption laws and clauses. It’s pizza that was in the news, sure, but that tempest-in-a-teacup actually tended to trivialize the real dangers of laws like this. Because pizzerias aren’t the only businesses that serve people every day. (Astonishing news, I’m sure.)

What about other businesses and service people?

What about EMTs, police- and fire-persons?

What about doctors?

What if these people decide that, due to their ‘sincerely-held religious beliefs’, they were legally within their rights to deny services or treatments to people based solely on that person’s sexual orientation or identity? What if?

“Ah, that’s just propaganda, just fear-mongering, Unicorn,” I hear you snort. “That kind of thing won’t happen. Doctors don’t discriminate, they took an oath!”

Well, I don’t know how to say this prettily, but you’re wrong. It has happened already. It wasn’t in a life-or-death situation, but at least one doctor (in Michigan) has made it into the news for refusing services – not to a same-sex couple, but to a newborn infant, because her parents are lesbians.

(Read/watch that story here.)

Crazy, right? The couple had met with the doctor pre-birth to establish a relationship for care for their little girl, once she set foot in the world. When their daughter arrived, the couple went for their previously-scheduled first visit, and they were turned away. The doctor – who had previously seemed open-minded and compassionate – sent word via her receptionist that she had changed her mind and could not in good conscience treat the daughter of a lesbian couple. What, was she afraid ‘teh gay’ would rub off on the infant and then transfer to herself via osmosis?

Asinine, hurtful, but not life-threatening. True. But what if the next time it’s not a pediatrician, but the EMT who declines to use the ‘jaws of life’ on a gay man because he’s afraid of the cooties? Or the fireperson who lets your house burn because a ‘gay person’s house’ offends her sensibilities? Legally, it could happen. And if I’ve learned anything in his world so far, it’s that anything that can happen, will happen. The stupid (or in this case, ignorant) will always find a way.

All of which brings me around to another example that should serve to illuminate this principle: The woman who went to a Walmart pharmacy to fill a prescription after suffering a miscarriage (the article cited way back at the beginning), and which prompted me irresistibly to pick up my plumed pen. This woman, after suffering her second miscarriage, and seeing her doctor multiple times in an attempt to avoid losing this pregnancy, received confirmation that their efforts had been in vain. The baby had died. It was still inside her. Given two choices – an invasive D&C (dilation and curettage), wherein they scrape the fetus out manually, at risk of injury and infection to the woman, or a prescription pill that would take care of it with little risk to her – she chose the less dangerous, the medication.

And the Walmart pharmacist refused to give it to her.

The reason?

“Well, I don’t feel like there is a reason why you would need it.”

Excuse me, what?

Way to go, moral exemption clause advocates... You just made an (incorrect) judgment and refused a woman a prescription medication to remove an ALREADY DECEASED and previously-very-much-wanted fetus from a grieving want-to-be mother's body.

Let’s be very clear: This was not an attempted abortion. This was a medically recommended choice that was less dangerous and taxing to the patient than a D&C - and the baby (again, previously MUCH WANTED baby) had already unfortunately been confirmed deceased by the doctor who prescribed the medication.

This judgment should never have been in the hands of the pharmacist. It should have been between the woman and her doctor ONLY.

Also please note: The issue was not that the pharmacy doesn't carry the medication, only that the pharmacist, "could not see any reason why you would need that medication"..!! Because of course a pharmacist’s knowledge and wisdom about a particular patient’s medical needs obviously trumps that of her own obstetrician and doctor. In what universe was any of this OK?

They claim to decide whether or not to fill prescriptions on a case-by-case basis (the implications of that alone should be terrifying to us all, by the way. How would you like a random pharmacist deciding whether or not they think you are entitled to receive medication that YOUR DOCTOR has prescribed?)

And apparently having a dead baby inside of you, which is traumatic whether or not you've had previous miscarriages like this woman has, wasn't a good enough reason.

I am absolutely sickened by this, Darlings. Sickened, saddened, and yes, maybe a little bit frightened.

Who decides, Darlings?

Who has the right to say what is best for us, if not ourselves, and our doctors?

Who has the right to decide whether they will or will not help us, if we are suffering or in dire need?

Who has the right to shut their eyes, or to direct those they deem ‘unworthy’ to the other fountain, the other lunch counter, or the back of the bus? Or, in a clearly worst-case scenario, to nowhere at all if we’re in a critical medical emergency and they refuse to dirty their hands on ‘someone like us’..?

Right now, it appears that we’ve passed laws so that anyone can, no matter how ignorant or bigoted they might be.

The time to repeal these repugnant and dangerous laws is now, Darlings. Before things do get out of hand, and someone – or a lot of someones – dies.

Now I’m going to order me up some gay pizza.
Image not mine; found uncredited online.
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