Legislation / Court Cases

Spanish Pharmacy Wins Right to Refuse to Sell Morning After Pills

Seville pharmacy had been fined €3,000 in 2008 for refusing to sell emergency contraceptive, but Spanish constitutional court overturns decision on appeal.

A Spanish pharmacy that was fined for refusing to sell women morning-after pills has been told that its right to “ideological freedom” was violated by the sanction.

The regional health authorities of Andalusia, in southern Spain, fined the pharmacy in Seville €3,000 (£2,130) in 2008, because it sold neither the emergency contraceptive morning-after pill nor condoms.

Spanish pharmacies are required by law to provide both, with no prescription required.

However, the constitutional court has overturned the decision on appeal.

It took into account the fact that the owners of the pharmacy in question were officially registered as “conscientious objectors” on issues where they see a professional conflict between the law and their own beliefs.

Apparently drawing a parallel between the morning-after pill and abortion, the court ruled in its sentence that in this case, legally obligating the vendor to sell the product clashed “with the concept advocated by [the pharmacist] regarding the right to life.”

However, the court upheld the sanction related to the pharmacy’s refusal to sell condoms, stating that it saw there “no conflict of conscience with constitutional relevance”.

It was a tight decision by the court, with several magistrates disagreeing with the final ruling.

The judge overseeing the vote, Andres Ollero, admitted that it was a grey area and that he and his colleagues could not be “spiritual directors of citizens, instructing them on which areas of their conscience are protected by fundamental rights and which should be forgotten because they are twisted scruples.”

Judge Adela Asua voted against the ruling, arguing that rather than protecting beliefs, the court’s sentence itself was tainted by ideology. She also warned that it set a dangerous precedent, which could “bring ill-fated consequences for our state and our coexistence.”

Spain has seen an intense debate over the issue of abortion in recent year. In 2010, the previous, Socialist government introduced a law allowing abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy.

However, last year the current conservative administration proposed only allowing terminations following rape or if the mother’s health was in danger, before withdrawing its reform bill in the face of political and social opposition.

Many Spanish doctors avoid performing abortions by declaring themselves ideologically opposed to the operation.

[7 July 2015, Guy Hedgecoe, Madrid, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11723511/Spanish-pharmacy-wins-right-to-refuse-to-sell-morning-after-pills.html ; Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, 13 July 2015, http://www.pncius.org/ ]