Bad Bills


Pharmacist, Heal Thyself

Dispensing Judgment HB 16 Rep. Frank Corte, Jr. (R-San Antonio) In a story that’s becoming increasingly common, a young female rape victim in Denton went to Eckerd’s last February to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill. Her pharmacist refused, on moral grounds, to dispense the drug. Eckerd’s later fired the pharmacist, but the young woman had to go elsewhere to get her prescription filled. Stories like this make Rep. Frank Corte, Jr.’s, heart bleed—that poor, poor, pharmacist! Corte’s HB 16 would protect pharmacists who make similar refusals—giving yet another bunch of people the right to make women’s reproductive decisions for them. The bill would tack an amendment onto state law that allows doctors and hospital personnel to refuse to participate in abortions. “There was a hole in current legislation,” says Corte’s legislative director, Kathi Seay. “Everybody else is protected if they refuse to participate in the process, with the exception of pharmacists.” Pro-choice advocates are especially spooked by the bill’s broad language. HB 16 currently defines “emergency contraception” as any prescription drug “containing an elevated dose of hormones that is used to prevent pregnancy”—a category that includes many oral contraceptives. The bill also excuses pharmacists from “dispensing or participating in dispensation” of the objectionable prescriptions, language that seems to give them free reign to be as unhelpful as possible. “This tells women ‘Your conscience is not important, your decision is not important,’” says Danielle Tierney, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Texas Capital Region. “It’s a clear attempt to deny women’s rights.” A recent survey by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas found that 83 percent of Texans say pharmacists shouldn’t be able to refuse to fill emergency contraception prescriptions. Maybe Corte has read the survey and done the math, too. According to Seay, the bill will be revised to limit its scope to drugs like RU486, which terminate pregnancies. It’s not certain whether the revised bill will require the pharmacist to refer patients to a pharmacy that is willing to fill the prescription. However, all pharmacists will be required to return morally dubious prescriptions to customers, rather than confiscating and destroying them. Whew. What a relief. On second thought, maybe Corte’s bill doesn’t go far enough to protect tender-of-conscience retailers from endangering their immortal souls. A casual leafing through Leviticus reminds us of some other potentially forbidden products: mayonnaise, shellfish, leafy vegetables, haircuts (at least those where hair is cut on both sides of the head), and, of course, fabric woven from more than one kind of fiber. Just the Facts, Please HB 220 Rep. Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land) Once a year, our State Board of Education (SBOE) erupts into silliness over which textbooks are suitable for our impressionable school-kids. Whether the academic subject is biology or economics, a reliably righteous contingent of the board stirs up controversy: Do the books adequately debunk evolution? Should they say more nice things about the free market? Do they sufficiently marginalize gays? Then both sides square off. Scientists and pseudo-scientists testify at length, liberals and conservatives get red in the face, and their well-scrubbed progeny plead to the board that a wrong decision may forever blight their budding futures. It makes great television, but it’s a lousy way to approve textbooks. Yet Rep. Charlie Howard seems to think the process would benefit by upping the polarization factor. A bill filed by Howard would give board members even more power to inject personal prejudice into the textbook approval process. His HB 220 would allow the SBOE to add errors of “viewpoint discrimination” and “special interest advocacy” to the criterion for rejecting a book. “Viewpoint discrimination”—what a lovely term of art. And so precise. In the early 1990s, religious fundamentalists and hard-right conservatives around the country launched strategic takeovers of state education boards. Low voter turnout for board elections made it easy to install candidates who would push fringe issues like creationism and abstinence-only sex education. In 1995, Texas legislators tried to defuse the situation, restricting the board to vetting books for factual errors. (The year before the board had rejected one health textbook because it contained a line-drawing of a breast, another because it showed a photograph of a woman carrying a briefcase.) Rep. Howard, who has been recognized as a “top conservative legislator” by the Christian Coalition, has been fighting to restore the board’s lost powers ever since. “The representative believes power should be in the hands of elected boards, not un-elected bureaucrats,” says his former legislative director Paul Powell. Opponents of the bill foresee a free-for-all if HB 220 passes. “This puts the facts in our kids’ textbooks at the whim of politics,” says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which heads the liberal and secular side of most textbook fights. “It gives board members the power to edit books based on their own personal belief.” And the board has quite a track record for pushing the limits of its authority to vet books for “factual errors.” In 1996, they objected to history books that “over-emphasized” the cruelty of slavery. Last fall, the board blocked publishers from including basic facts about contraception in high school health textbooks. Board member Terri Leo attempted to further edit the health books to define marriage in strict heterosexual terms, and characterize homosexuality as leading to “increased rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide.” Publishers rejected most of Leo’s last-minute proposals. Under Howard’s bill, however, Leo might have prevailed. Bad Bills are compiled by the Observer’s Bad Bills Girl, who rises vampire-like from hibernation every two years to suck the blood from vile or absurd state legislation. If you have a likely candidate for “Bad Bills,” please fax her at (512) 474-1175, or e-mail [email protected].