LOS ANGELES -- Fearing that she was pregnant after a romantic
night with her husband, Michelle Crider asked for help.
Instead, she got a deadlock -- with pharmacist John Boling.
When her doctor, Myron Schonbrun, asked Boling to supply Crider
with Ovral birth control pills -- take two pills immediately, then
two more within 12 hours -- the pharmacy manager at Longs Drug Store
in Temecula, Calif., refused.
"I kind of understood immediately," Schonbrun recalled. At that
dosage, Ovral was a morning-after pill, meant to prevent a
egg from implanting in the uterus, and Boling disapproved.
But Schonbrun knew that though Crider deeply wanted another child,
pregnancy made her deathly ill. So the doctor tried to finesse the
problem. He asked Boling to provide a month's supply of Ovral, to be
taken one a day, like any contraceptive.
Boling again refused. He said he "knew what it was going to be
given for," Schonbrun recalled.
Boling's revolt is just the beginning. With the FDA's recent
proclamation that morning-after pills are safe and effective, corner
druggists across America could increasingly find themselves in the
middle of conflicts that pit personal beliefs against patient
And in coming years, pharmacists will face even more serious
challenges when the RU-486 abortion pill is approved, or if other
states follow Oregon in legalizing drugs for physician-assisted
The pharmacists are caught in a Catch-22. The American
Pharmaceutical Association, with 48,000 members, supports a
pharmacist's right of refusal -- but says that right must not
override a patient's right to treatment.
In other words, pharmacists must find a way to accommodate their
own beliefs, as well as those of the patient. That could mean
referring a prescription to another pharmacist -- a prospect that
might satisfy neither the scruples nor the competitive fires of the
"Ethics demands that it's what you ought to do for the patient,
not for yourself," said Richard Abood, a professor of pharmacy
practice at University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in
"The pharmacist might be a little repulsed to give it to another
pharmacist, but ... sometimes you've got to do things that are
In fact, Crider -- who has taught contraception to migrant workers
-- eventually got her prescription from a nearby Vons supermarket.
"I'm still very angry," she said. "Without knowing my situation,
he could have affected a huge part of my life. What if there had
been no other pharmacy to go to?"
The process was "demeaning," says Crider, 28, the mother of a 2-
Boling, whose behavior brought a reprimand from Longs, declined to
be interviewed for this story, citing instructions to refer all
queries to company headquarters in Walnut Creek, Calif. …