WaPo Prescribes Bias in Story on Pro-life Pharmacy

On the one hand, I have to give the Washington Post some credit for its biased June 16 story about a new pro-life pharmacy set to open in northern Virginia this summer. Even with its less-than-fair treatment, it informs pro-life readers of a new pharmacy they may wish to patronize. Of course the store opening is worthy of news coverage for a number of reasons, such as the intersection of faith and professional ethics in health care, but unfortunately, staffer Rob Stein started right off the bat slanting coverage in a way to disparage the enterprise.

Take, for example, Stein's lead paragraph in "'Pro-Life' Drugstores Market Beliefs: No Contraceptives for Chantilly Shop.":

When DMC Pharmacy opens this summer on Route 50 in Chantilly, the shelves will be stocked with allergy remedies, pain relievers, antiseptic ointments and almost everything else sold in any drugstore. But anyone who wants condoms, birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive will be turned away.

"Turned away"? Really? It's not like the customers seeking condoms or birth control will be blacklisted, they just won't find those items in stock, and are more than free to purchase cold medicine, rubbing alcohol, or any number of over-the-counter or prescription items at the store.

Of course, one might argue, Stein's use of "turned away" might not be the best choice of words, but it's not like he meant to evince negative sentiments towards DMC or its operator Robert Semler. Yet if that were the case, why did Stein place in dismissive quote marks terms like pro-life and right of conscience?:

That's because the drugstore, located in a typical shopping plaza featuring a Ruby Tuesday, a Papa John's and a Kmart, will be a "pro-life pharmacy" -- meaning, among other things, that it will eschew all contraceptives.

The pharmacy is one of a small but growing number of drugstores around the country that have become the latest front in a conflict pitting patients' rights against those of health-care workers who assert a "right of conscience" to refuse to provide care or products that they find objectionable.

Stein waited until just after the jump in paragraph five to find "critics" who "say the stores could create dangerous obstacles for women seeking legal, safe and widely used birth control methods."

Stein's first critic is "Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center," which Stein simply calls "a Washington advocacy group," ignoring NWLC's pro-choice bent. Here's what NWLC has to say about its advocacy for expanded access to legal abortion:

For more than three decades, the Center has worked to preserve women's right to make their own reproductive choices. Reproductive health care must be both available and affordable for women to lead healthy and productive lives.

Our work to prevent unintended pregnancy includes efforts to increase and protect access to contraception, including emergency contraception. The Center is at the forefront of efforts to expand access for low-income women through Medicaid, and through private insurance coverage of contraception.

In addition, the Center address barriers to reproductive health care access, such as religious restrictions on reproductive health services, including pharmacist refusals to provide contraception.

The Center protects women's right to safe, legal abortion, which includes judicial nominations advocacy to ensure that the courts do not undermine the right to choose.

The Center also opposes attempts to criminalize the behavior of pregnant women. The troubling trend of prosecuting women for drug use during pregnancy only discourages women from seeking prenatal care, and results in less healthy mothers and babies.

Stein continued by noting the rise of pro-life pharmacies in the context of other medical professionals exercising their religiously informed consciences:

The pharmacies are emerging at a time when a variety of health-care workers are refusing to perform medical procedures they find objectionable. Fertility doctors have refused to inseminate gay women. Ambulance drivers have refused to transport patients for abortions. Anesthesiologists have refused to assist in sterilizations.

Of course while doctors, ambulance drivers, and anesthesiologists may have more restrictions on what they can or cannot do on the job vis-a-vis their religious objections, it's another matter entirely to open a private pharmacy, like DMC, that doesn't stock certain drugs or contraceptives in the first place. Even so, Stein jumped immediately for describing how pro-life pharmacies generally operate to finding a critic to lambaste the decision of these private businesses on what not to stock:

Some pro-life pharmacies are identical to typical drugstores except that they do not stock some or all forms of contraception. Others also refuse to sell tobacco, rolling papers or pornography. Many offer "alternative" products, including individually compounded prescription drugs, as well as vitamins and homeopathic and herbal remedies.

"We try to practice pharmacy in a way that we feel is best to help our community and promote healthy lifestyles," said Lloyd Duplantis, who owns Lloyd's Remedies in Gray, La., and is a deacon in his Catholic church. "After researching the science behind steroidal contraceptives, I decided they could hurt the woman and possibly hurt her unborn child. I decided to opt out."

Some critics question how such pharmacies justify carrying drugs, such as Viagra, for male reproductive issues, but not those for women.

"Why do you care about the sexual health of men but not women?" asked Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If he gets his Viagra, why can't she get her contraception?"

At the very least, pro-lifers of every religious affiliation who live near Chantilly, Virginia, can thank the Post for the heads-up about a new pharmacy that respects and cherishes their beliefs. Hopefully DMC Pharamcy will enjoy heavy patronage from such customers thanks in part to free publicity from the Post.

It is unfortunate, however, that the paper blew an opportunity to present the story in a more balanced manner.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters