Pharmacist speaks about ethical dilemma that led to firing, legislation
Speaker fired after refusing to dispense contraceptive drugs
By John Meunier
Herald-Times Staff Writer
March 27, 2001
Karen Brauer was fired from her job as a Kmart pharmacist for refusing to dispense drugs that would prevent a fertilized human embryo from implanting in the wall of a woman's uterus.
She sued the company and became the symbol for a movement to bar companies from firing pharmacists who refuse to dispense drugs that violate their religious or moral beliefs.
Critics of the movement say it denies women access to legal medical treatment and imposes the pharmacist's moral beliefs on the patient.
Indiana state Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, sponsored a pharmacists' conscience bill in the Indiana legislature, but the bill never made it out of committee.
Brauer said Monday she is disappointed that national and state pharmacist associations have not fought for the passage of such bills.
"A pharmacist is legally liable for every dispensing decision," Brauer told a group of 16 gathered Monday night in a Ballantine Hall classroom on the Indiana University campus.
Just as doctors and nurses should have the choice about whether they participate in abortion procedures, she said, pharmacists should not risk losing their jobs for exercising their religious beliefs.
She said there are more than 7,000 pharmacy jobs open in the country that can't be filled.
Reasonable companies should be able to see that accommodating the religious choice of employees is better than not having enough people to do the work, she said.
Brauer, 41, called herself a "congenital Roman Catholic" and expressed broad concern about birth-control pills in general and abortion-inducing drugs in particular.
She said women are being given hormones without getting full and complete information about the effects of the drugs.
"This is just the medical patriarchy determining that the women don't have to worry their pretty little heads about it," she said.
She acknowledged that people living in rural areas could have a hard time getting legal medical treatments but does not believe that should force a pharmacist to compromise her convictions.
"Rural people will drive long distances to get what they need," she said. "With mail-order pharmacies and Fed Ex, that is getting to the point where it won't be a problem."
Brauer's lawsuit claiming employment discrimination goes to trial in Ohio federal court early this summer. In the meantime, the Lawrenceburg resident works part-time at a pharmacy and teaches some classes at Ivy Tech State College.
She said speaking engagements such as the one Monday at IU don't come easily or naturally for her.
"I'm not a professional speaker," she said. "I'm a pharmacist."
But she said she understands that her circumstances have allowed her to advance a cause in which she believes.
"I believe I was put in pharmacy for a reason," she said. "This was probably it — so I can go sell pro-life."
Reporter John Meunier can be reached at 331-4363 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.