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Can’t say we didn’t see this one coming…

We reported yesterday that a Springfield, Ohio, woman has filed a complaint against Wal-Mart with the state as well as with an abortion rights group, charging that a Wal-Mart pharmacist wouldn't give her Plan B morning-after contraceptive pills that don't require a prescription. The pharmacist is not denying the charge, but rather is saying that he denied her request because “I do not believe in ending life, and life begins at conception.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that the Plan B pill can be dispensed without a prescription to woman over the age of 18. In our commentary, we wrote:

A pharmacy is a government-licensed entity. The government has said that the Plan B pill can be dispensed without a prescription if a person is older than 18. Like it or not, an individual pharmacist has a responsibility to operate within the law, not foist his or her personal morality on a customer. If a pharmacist has a problem, then get someone else to do it. But if there is nobody else available, they still have to live within the law. Or get another job.

Wal-Mart’s responsibility here is to the customer and to the law. And it needs to be decisive in dealing with this event and the guy who decided his views were more important than the entirely legal views held by the customer.

MNB user Karmi Middlemiss responded:

I don't agree with your commentary. I don't think a pharmacist should be required to go against their personal belief or values by dispensing this medication. After all, abortion is legal but not every surgeon is required to perform one. The consumer has every right to find another store, and another pharmacist, who will dispense the drug. It's up to Wal-Mart to determine whether or not they are willing to let that consumer leave the store, and so far they've said they are. If Wal-Mart decides not to lose customers over this it will then be up to the Pharmacist to find another place to work where they can uphold their personal beliefs and values.

Another MNB user wrote:

It's amazing that we have abortion, gay rights, prejudices etc, etc, etc shoved in our faces everyday but people are not allowed to stand up for any morals that they have without the threat of being fired or sued.

Law or not the couple should have just went to the next pharmacy down the street and got what they needed. Now they will probably end up being paid for having unprotected sex...AMAZING !!!

Yet another MNB user wrote:

It looks like the Pharmacist has chosen to follow Gods’ Law rather than Man’s Law. And you would stone him for it.

Actually not.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” is how the reading goes, if we remember correctly.

We would suggest that the pharmacist cast the first stone in making a sweeping judgment about this woman, her values and her right to make a decision.

Still another member of the MNB community wrote:

If I had a pharmacy, for personal safety reasons I would not stock Oxycontin and would post a sign to that effect on the front door. What would be your opinion on that? My view is that there are plenty of Pharmacists that will dispense Plan B so take your business elsewhere. I suspect that Catholic Hospitals who are licensed by the government probably will not perform legal abortions either.

That said, the pharmacist's comment that "I do not believe in ending life, and life begins at conception" needs to brush up on his pharmacology. I suspect there is no hesitation to dispense birth control pills, the vast majority of which do not prevent ovulation or conception, but like Plan B, just alter the hormone balance in a way that prevents implantation of the fertilized egg in the womb.

Yet another MNB user wrote:

Are all doctors required to perform abortions? I know they are not!

Why should a Pharmacist be required to enable an abortion then? Both are health care professionals and should be held to the same standard.

Just because the pharmacist works in a retail environment they shouldn’t be forced to perform an act that is so contrary to their most moral core beliefs. Should we mandate that all anti-abortion pharmacists give back their pharmacy licenses?

Personally, I applaud this pharmacist for having the courage of his conviction!

Another MNB user chimed in:

Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Obviously he is serious about his faith.
We all have tough choices to make in life. This pharmacist does not want to trade eternity with his God to do his job. He feels it would be unfaithful to be any part of an abortion. In fairness to him, this pill was probably not available when he became a pharmacist. And last, many of us still believe this is wrong.

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”

MNB user Sally Kling wrote:

Wal-Mart also has a responsibility under the law to accommodate the religious expression of the employee, (within reason) not just the customer. Therefore, you are wrong in saying that the pharmacist has to dispense in the absence of someone of another employee who is willing. Perhaps the compromise would be to tell the customer when they could come back and pick it up. If you think your argument of the law only supports the thought that the Pharmacist has to dispense, may I refresh your memory on the 1st Amendment of the Constitution?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

You also stated that as a "government licensed entity" the pharmacist had to comply. This is not true. Wal-Mart can be sued by the pharmacist for denying their right to religious expression. I would urge you and your readers to do some research on the "Freedom of Religion in the Workplace Act" passed in 1993 by the Clinton Administration for Government Agencies.

In addition:

Don't you think it is a bit hypocritical to tout tolerance and then not practice it on behalf of EVERYONE, including the Pharmacist and his beliefs?


This may not make us a lot of friends, but we still think the pharmacist was wrong. And Wal-Mart will be wrong if it does not resolve this issue so that women are able to obtain a legal over-the-counter drug from its stores. (To be clear, we think it is perfectly acceptable for Wal-Mart to say that if pharmacists are queasy about dispensing certain drugs, they simply have to make sure that schedules are drawn up that will prevent them from having to do so.)

The reason is simple. We don’t know how many options this Ohio woman had when she went to the Wal-Mart. Maybe there were a dozen other pharmacies to which she could have gone, and if that is the case, it seems to us that she simply should have done so.

But there are places where there aren’t a plethora of options, where there may only be one pharmacist in town. Heck, Wal-Mart is doing its level best to make sure that this is so, by being as competitive as it can possibly be in the HBC and prescription business. In such cases, we are profoundly troubled by a pharmacist with delusions of grandeur.

We have enough trouble making our own ethical decisions. We don’t need a pharmacist doing it for us.

It is that simple.

This is about one person thinking that his judgment trumps another person’s, that he is morally superior, and then making a decision that could, in very real terms, have enormous impact on her life.

That isn’t morality. That’s arrogance.

We also wrote yesterday about a Wall Street Journal story reporting that there is a small but definable movement on the part of retailers around the nation to encourage their customers to use PIN-based debit cards with low transaction fees instead of higher-fee signature-based debit cards. We endorsed this movement, saying that retailers need to stand up for themselves and their consumers.

MNB user Stephen Taylor responded:

I read your opinion this AM regarding the use of PIN-based credit cards versus signature based credit cards. I have to tell you that my wife and I as well as many others are very uncomfortable using a PIN to complete our transactions as we feel that merchants have done a less than excellent job of insuring the security of PIN-based transactions. Apparently, the merchants can retain the credit-card numbers, but are forbidden to retain the PIN codes. Sounds good, right? Well, due to software flaws and security breaches a great many PIN codes were being retained by Office Max. Hackers discovered this fact and stole a great many of the account numbers along with the matching PIN codes. Although I never suffered any actual loss, I ended up changing my PIN code last summer. My wife and I rarely use PIN codes now, and prefer not to. If I could be assured that merchants were doing all they could to safeguard the transaction, this attitude might change. It may be a dollars-and-cents issue to you, but it is a security issue to me; I am willing to pay for enhanced security.

Another MNB user wrote:

I don't know about other banks - however my bank charges me $1 every time I use my card by punching in my pin number, I don't get charged anything if I use it as credit. Either way I guess it's costing me more to use the card rather than cash.

Still another MNB user wrote:

You had gave a strong endorsement for retailers 'steering' customers to PIN-based debit cards, but there are risks associated with this. A thief who gets a hold of a debit card number can take money directly out of a person's bank account. Banks do not offer the same theft protection as credit card companies, who will allow you to contest a charge and possibly pay a small fee if your card is compromised. If a thief gets access to your bank account, it can be a real disaster, and I should know--it happened to me shortly after graduating college and starting a new job. At the time, I had very little in my bank account, but what was there was all that I had, and I often used my debit card so as not to run up charges on a credit card and incur interest. A thief somehow (I still do not know how) got my debit card number, charged $1200 worth of jewelry and $500 worth of phone calls and essentially wiped me took about 5 months to convince the bank that my account had been compromised, but I was eventually able to do it. It was one of the scariest moments of my life to find out that my bank account was cleaned out, and to this day I do not use a debit card--I prefer to use credit and have the protection that goes with it (and I never carry a balance).

MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

I use my debit card almost exclusively when shopping, only write a check when absolutely necessary and avoid credit entirely. Many of the merchants (mostly clothing stores where my sixteen year old likes to shop) treat my debit card just like a credit card and don't even offer the choice of using my PIN or signing, I asked, I signed. For many stores the only payment choices left are cash or plastic (no checks). No problem, but don't complain about the high cost of processing my plastic if you don't offer me alternative lower cost options (such as using my PIN). Most of these places are pricey to start with (unfortunately for me, my daughter wears a size 1-2 depending on the manufacturer and even Target offers little in her size) so any way to keep prices in line would be appreciated by this Mom at least for a few more years.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

Two years ago I moved to the Netherlands and was amazed that the grocery store did not accept credit cards. I was a faithful credit card user in the States and played the reward game by religiously buying everything with my credit card (I also religiously paid off my balance by the due date).

The culture in the Netherlands is opposed to debt and people only use credit cards when traveling. As a matter of fact I had to beg the bank to give me a credit card with a decent credit limit (it isn't hard to spend €1,500 in a month when traveling).

Anyway, what we notice is that all stores and restaurants (even McDonalds) accept PIN transactions, but very few accept credit cards. I'm sure this is probably driven by the retailers who don't want to pay higher fees, but it is just accepted as the way things are.

Also as an aside, the Netherlands has just about done away with the penny, either all prices are rounded to 5 cents or your total bill is rounded. It took a few transactions to learn that I just wouldn't be getting all the pennies I felt I was entitled to, but now it is normal. I think we should work on this in the States as well as it probably costs more to produce a penny than it is worth.

Another MNB user wrote:

After reading your article “Retailers Seek PIN Cushion” I felt compelled to send you one piece of information that was not included. My bank (actually a Credit Union) charges customers $.50 per transaction when we use our debit cards with a PIN, however, the transaction is free if we use our debit card with a signature. Since I use my debit card for all my purchases, I never use it with my PIN and probably save $15-20 per month in fees. After reading your article it now makes sense to me why my bank charges these fees; they’re making sure they get their money one way or another.

MNB user Dave Wiles had a sobering thought:

I agree that the banks charge too much per swipe and using a PIN does help. I try to use this system where I can. Anything to beat the bank.

However, if this "definable movement" grows to the point where the banks actually see a impact on their bottom line, won't they just start charging more of the PIN service?

MNB user Glen Terbeek weighed in on the story reporting that Wal-Mart’s Asda Group and Sainsbury have begun to negotiate the possibility of opening a joint distribution center. Asda CEO Andy Bond tells the Sunday Times that while the two chains are intensely competitive, environmental and economic concerns might make it advisable for some sort of collaboration.

Again the UK takes the lead in distribution. Redundant distribution systems carrying the same items in the same marketplace just doesn't make economic or marketing sense, even for fierce competitors. Redundancy only adds cost and it eliminates the ability to get niche items (at the end of the long tale) to the shoppers that need/want them. It even makes sense for private label items as well. It enables the retailers to compete at the local market level, required to be successful in the future, whereas self distribution only prolongs mass (every store is the same) mentality. By the way, shoppers really don't care how product gets to the store, if it is the right product at the right price.

I assume that the manufacturers will own the product until it is shipped to the stores, and the distribution center will be paid a fee for the services that it performs. No more making false economics on the buy, but making money on the sale by creating value added local stores! Retailers that participant in joint distribution centers will be able to refocus their organizations and measurements on the local stores; they will realign themselves around their customers.

This could be the start of what I call the "Barrier Buster", the network of information, distribution, and funds transfer providers that compete by enabling all retailers, chains and independents, to maximize the performance of each store in its marketplace. It could be the beginning of the demise of the supply chain mentality of ECR years with the Demand Side future.

I find it interesting that a Wal-Mart division is involved in the concept. But it is not surprising for two reasons, 1) their business model has always focused on the sale (shopper), not the buy and/or false economics of trade dollars, and 2) they are willing to break out of current business practices if it gives them a competitive advantage.

As should we all.
KC's View: