UK Freedom of religion alert – Christian pharmacists could be required to prescribe abortion pills

United Kingdom

In a little-noticed move the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which regulates pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, has quietly slipped a proposal into a consultation document that would require Christian pharmacists to prescribe abortion drugs. If this were to be included in the new professional code of conduct, any pharmacists who objected could be barred from the profession.  The proposal illustrates the increasing attempt to impose partisan socially liberal values on Christians that is effectively imposing a test of secular liberal humanist belief on some professions.

When abortion was legalised in 1967, theoretically only for certain limited reasons, a specific conscience clause was included so that no health professionals would be obliged to take part in abortions if it was against their conscience. 

In 2010 the GPhC produced a legally binding code of conduct requiring pharmacists to inform their employers if their beliefs prevented them prescribing abortion pills and specifically to refer patients to other pharmacists who would provide them.

In 2011, new guidance from the GPhC required pharmacy staff not only to refer patients to other pharmacists who would provide abortion drugs, but also to ring ahead to check that the drugs were in stock. The new guidance also made clear that employers could legally discriminate against any potential employees who had a conscientious objection to prescribing abortion drugs.

Now in 2017, under the proposed new code, which would take effect from 1st May 2017, all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians would be required to prescribe abortion drugs themselves and not to allow “personal values and belief” to “compromise” this. The General Pharmaceutical Council consultation document states that “This is a significant change from the present position”. Yet this change has not been debated by parliament – it is being proposed by a body without any meaningful accountability to the public for its actions.

This is part of a wider pattern. In the two centuries prior to 1888 the UK abolished all requirements for anyone in the public sector to be required to hold a particular set of religious or philosophical beliefs. This was also specifically written into the constitutions of some newly independent countries such as the USA (1787) and Australia (1900). Now, however, those wishing to enter an increasing number of professions and public offices, including marriage registrars and magistrates sitting on adoption panels, are effectively being required to sign up to a new secular liberal humanist Test Act – or be excluded from those positions.

Anyone wishing to respond to the General Pharmaceutical Council’s consultation on religion, personal values and beliefs in pharmacy practice can do so HERE