Sunday, January 29, 2006

The right to refuse to work means you should be fired

(Actually I should rephrase the title. Exercising the right to refuse to work means you should be fired.)

Here's another example of where well-defined property rights would save everyone a lot of headaches.
Pharmacists Sue Over Birth Control Policy

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. Jan 28, 2006 — Four pharmacists who refused to sign a pledge promising to dispense the morning-after birth-control pill sued Walgreen drug stores Friday, alleging they were illegally fired.

The lawsuits accuse Walgreen Co. of violating the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The pharmacists were being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

A new state rule requires pharmacies that sell federally approved contraceptives to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control "without delay" if they have the medication in stock. The rule is being challenged in federal court.

In response to the rule, Deerfield-based Walgreen asked pharmacists to pledge in writing that they would fill prescriptions for contraceptives such as the morning-after pill. The plaintiffs were suspended indefinitely without pay when they refused to sign the pledge in November.

"It couldn't be any clearer," said ACLJ senior counsel Francis J. Manion. "In punishing these pharmacists for asserting a right protected by the Conscience Act, Walgreens broke the law."

Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin said the company needed to ensure that its stores would comply with the new regulations regarding the dispensing of emergency contraceptives.

"We are required to follow the law. We don't have a choice in the matter," he said.
It couldn't be any clearer that if the state of Illinois didn't force companies to employ people who won't do the job (whose performance does not violate anyone's life, liberty or property), we wouldn't have this mess.

The simple solution: let a pharmacy establish and follow its own policy on selling contraceptives. If it wants to fill such prescriptions, then it should have the right to refuse to hire pharmacists who won't fill them (and fire any existing employees who refuse). The pharmacists are always free to work somewhere else that won't fill those prescriptions, or establish their own drugstore and make their own policies. There is no reason whatsoever for any level of government to get involved.

The product in question is completely irrelevant. The real issue is the employer's rights as a property owner -- more fundamentally, the principle of whether someone can force a private property owner to use the property in ways the owner does not want. Instead of fulfilling the qualities their employer desires, these pharmacists are trying to use government's power to maintain their employment, though in fact they are refusing to do part of their job. I've discussed this before in relation to "smoker's rights."

Such refusal is called "insubordination" at many companies and often leads to termination. Would it go over well with my boss if I began refusing to make photocopies, because our paper's recycled content being below 100% violates my "environmental sensibilities"?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote about the same topic from another angle here.

Walgreens is trying hard to toe the line here. The law probably holds them responsible if they don't dispense the drugs, yet it's probably illegal to force people to do things that they think is against their religious beliefs.

We've got a case of really crappy reporting here, because they cite two laws, “Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act” and “A new state rule”, yet they fail to link to either of them so I can go read them myself. Unfortunately, news reports like that are rule rather than the exception.

Besides the obvious property rights issues you bring up, Wallgreens ought to be able to pension the Overlords and say, “we can't follow both this law and that law, strike down one or the other”. As is, they have to either risk the wrath of either the government or the employees, and they chose to fire the employees. I suppose the government had deeper pockets.

Monday, January 30, 2006 8:46:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Government also has things like fines and jails to enforce its will upon the people. Not that I'm an anarchist, but as one who has been threatened by unlawful jailing on more than one occasion (and I'm far from a political protestor!), I see government's weapons of force as far more powerful than most people think.

Monday, January 30, 2006 1:05:00 PM  

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