Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Pharmacists’ standards – the right to opt-out?

Abortion Rights has recently contributed to a consultation on Standards of Conduct and Ethics by the General Pharmaceutical Council – the industry regulator for pharmacy professionals. Our submission concerns the guidelines allowing pharmacists to ‘opt-out’ of providing medication because of their personal beliefs, which could potentially result in women being denied access to the ‘morning after pill’. 

Although the Standards recommend that pharmacists “tell the relevant people…and refer patients and the public to other providers”, Abortion Rights is concerned that pharmacists’ obligations in cases of conscientious objection are not clearly defined and service-users interests are not adequately safeguarded by the new document. 

Timely access to emergency contraception is clearly vital for the health and well-being of thousands of women every year. As Abortion Rights submission states:

“The consequences of allowing a pharmacist to opt out of providing contraceptives, especially emergency hormonal contraception, might result in unwanted pregnancy. This clearly breaches the client’s right to respect for her personal choices, is an abuse of a pharmacists professional position, directly allows a pharmacist to let their views on someone’s choices and lifestyle affect the way in which they provide services and is not in the best interest of the client.”

While understanding the Council’s wish to respect its members’ right to exercise their personal beliefs in the workplace, their professional duty – as detailed in their Standards of Conduct – is to ‘Make patients your first concern’ and ‘Show respect for others’. Where these issues conflict, a patient’s right to appropriate medical care must always take precedence.

Read the General Pharmaceutical Council’s Standards of Conduct, Ethics and Performance

Read Abortion Rights’ response to the Consultation in full.