Target digs itself a deeper hole in emergency contraceptive scandal

AMERICAblog reader, and fellow blogger, Joseph Hughes of Hughes for America, just sent me the latest response from Target about their growing emergency contraception scandal.

Full disclosure, I’ve worked as a consultant for Planned Parenthood for a number of years, on this issue and every other. They’re a great organization, and I’d be pushing this issue even if I’d never heard of them. This issue really infuriates me, and scares me too. It isn’t just about birth control. This is part of the religious right’s larger agenda to “target” gays, women, and other minorities. They hope to slowly and surely take away all of our rights, one small bit at a time. That is what’s going on here. Target is caving to America’s Taliban, and it needs to stop.

As you may recall, Target is letting its pharmacists refuse to fill your order for emergency contracptive pills (Plan B, as it’s called) simply because they find your prescription immoral. Target is now saying that they’ll fill your prescription in a “timely manner” at another pharmacy, or at their pharmacy at a later time (presumably when their holier-than-thou employee is on break).

I don’t know about you, but when I go to the pharmacist, I don’t want him sending me to another Target 40 miles away simply because he has religious issues with my prescription. It’s none of his business what prescription I’m getting filled, and short of there being a glaring mistake in my prescription a la “It’s a Wonderful Life” – i.e., instead of allergy pills someone gave me cyanide – it’s none of his damn business passing religious judgment on my prescriptions, my illnesses, my prefered form of treatment, or me.

I already have a priest, and he doesn’t work at Target, thank you.

But Target feels otherwise. In fact, Target is now claiming – quite incredibly – that its employees’ religious fanaticism is covered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Yes, apparently Target employees are allowed to not sell you things based on THEIR religion. That’s an absurd, and rather dangerous, legal statement from Target.

So let’s ask Target if they also support the following Target employees:

– Check out clerks who verify how fat you are before selling you that package of potato chips?
– Pharmacists who don’t want to fill prescriptions for Jewish customers who killed Christ.
– Pharmacists who don’t want to help customers who worship a “Satanic counterfeit” (read: “The Pope,” in fundie-speak).
– Pharmacists who only dispense HIV medicine to “innocent victims” of AIDS.
– Pharmacists who want proof that women seeking emergency contraception were really raped, and that they didn’t “deserve it.”
– Pharmacists (or cashiers) who are Christian Scientists – can they refuse to sell any medicine, even aspirin, to anyone?
– Pharmacists who won’t sell birth control pills to unmarried women, condoms to unmarried men, or any birth control at all because God doesn’t want people spilling their seed.
– Can fundamentalist Christian employees refuse to interact with gay people in any way, shape or form since gays are sinners, abominations, biological errors, and very likely pedophiles?

Interestingly, Target responds in the email below, just issued today. It seems that Target will ONLY honor its employees constitutionally-protected (so THEY claim) religious beliefs IF that religious belief deals with Plan B. So Target is now saying that it will NOT permit its employees to exercise their supposed religious rights under the 1964 Act if the medication or product in question is anything OTHER than Plan B.

Why not?

How can Target say that the employees have an absolute right under the 1964 Act to discriminate in what they sell because of their religion, but then they don’t have that same right if the product the employee objects to selling is anything other than Plan B? That makes no sense. Target can’t pick and choose which civil rights it wants to grant its uber-Christian employees. Either those employees are or aren’t covered under the Civil Rights Act. And if they are covered by it, I have a hard time understanding how Target is going to defend not permitting its Christian Science employees from banning aspirin or its fundamentalist Christian employees from refusing to serve gays. Are those religious beliefs somehow less meritorious than objectsions to what the fundies perceive as abortion (even though Plan B isn’t abortion, the fundies claim it is)?

Is Target now in the business of deciding, Solomon-like, which religious beliefs are valid and which are not? Sure sounds like they just did.

Here’s Target’s most recently email:

From: Target.Response [email protected]
Date: Nov 14, 2005 11:14 AM
Subject: Filling Prescriptions

Dear Target Guest

In our ongoing effort to provide great service to our guests, Target consistently ensures that prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B are filled. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also requires us to accommodate our team members’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

In the rare event that a pharmacist’s beliefs conflict with filling a guest’s prescription for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, our policy requires our pharmacists to take responsibility for ensuring that the guest’s prescription is filled in a timely and respectful manner, either by another Target pharmacist or a different pharmacy.

The emergency contraceptive Plan B is the only medication for which this policy applies. Under no circumstances can the pharmacist prevent the prescription from being filled, make discourteous or judgmental remarks, or discuss his or her religious beliefs with the guest.

Target abides by all state and local laws and, in the event that other laws conflict with our policy, we follow the law.

We’re surprised and disappointed by Planned Parenthood’s negative campaign. We’ve been talking with Planned Parenthood to clarify our policy and reinforce our commitment to ensuring that our guests’ prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive Plan B are filled. Our policy is similar to that of many other retailers and follows the recommendations of the American Pharmacists Association. That’s why it’s unclear why Target is being singled out.

We’re committed to meeting the needs of our female guests and will continue to deliver upon that commitment.


Jennifer Hanson
Target Executive Offices

And here’s Joseph’s response:


Target is being “singled out” because what your pharmacists are doing is wrong. If they don’t want to dispense Plan B based on moral or religious views, they shouldn’t have gotten into the business in the first place. They should have gotten into the ministry.

Here’s how it works: I have a prescription. You fill the prescription. That’s all there is to it and anything else, any hemming and hawing, any refusal based on moral or religious grounds, is not only wrong, but also morally reprehensible. And that’s a shame, because I used to love shopping at Target. Until you reinstate full compliance with prescriptions, I’ll never shop there again. It’s as simple as that.

And I’m not the only one. There are millions more like me.

You’ve overstepped your bounds and are posing a safety issue to your female customers, customers who may be coming to your pharmacy as the result of a rape. That Target has chosen to side with overbearing pharmacists and not potential victims is truly shameful. And it shouldn’t even be about those extreme examples. If someone needs Plan B, you should be there to fill the prescription. No questions asked.

Don’t get me wrong, I think ever
yone’s entitled to his or her own beliefs. But never should those beliefs get in the way of administering potentially life-saving medication. How many lives must Target potentially ruin before its powers that be rethink this terrible policy? What if the “different pharmacy” won’t help, either? Or the one after that? I’m sorry, Jennifer, but if the unthinkable ever happens, the blood will be on Target’s hands.

If Target sincerely was “committed to meeting the needs” of its female guests, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It’s as simple as that.

Thank you for your reply,

Joseph Hughes
Hughes for America

More on this issue from Dav Savage.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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