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the religious right to choose: Islam vs. Christianity against alcohol vs. birth control - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2007-05-07 14:46
the religious right to choose: Islam vs. Christianity against alcohol vs. birth control
Public
abortion, alcohol, contraception, feminism, freedom, morning-after pill, politics, religion
Interesting -- I heard on NPR today that Muslim cab drivers (UPDATE: just at the Minneapolis airport) who refuse to give rides to people carrying alcohol (even closed bottles in checked luggage, as from a duty-free shop), citing religious freedom, will have their cab licenses revoked for 30 days the first time and two years the second time. My mind immediately jumped to a parallel issue that has generally enjoyed more favorable treatment in the last couple years: the refusal of some pharmacists (and doctors) to fill (or prescribe) birth control prescriptions, citing religious beliefs. The religious argument in both is the same: those involved believe it's a sin to abet something they believe is sinful. So why the harsh ruling in one case, and permissive treatment of the other? Could it be a prejudice against Muslims in the former case, or perhaps a more tolerant attitude toward alcohol? A prejudice against birth control or women in the latter, or perhaps a more tolerant attitude to homegrown religious extremism (i.e. evangelical Christianity)? What do you think?
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Liz
stellae
2007-05-07 23:30 (UTC)
(no subject)
I don't think the treatment is a result of a specific prejudice against a specific group of people in either case; I think the treatments are more reflective of a general population bias about the issues at hand.

The population, like it or not, is much more split on issues relating to birth control. The pro-choice/pro-life debate is an ongoing religious and public policy debate with strong factions on both sides. pro-temperance/anti-temperance is really not. We tried prohibition, it failed miserably and was ultimately repealed, it is now generally culturally accepted that alcohol use is common practice in our society and not subject to moral scrutiny. Additionally, it tends not to invoke the life/death questions that are brought up with the issues of birth control.

Another issue at stake is that in the case of the cab driver, it's not possible to immediately pull in a substitute cab driver. If one cab driver refuses to give a person a ride, the person may have to wait a large and unknown amount of time for the next available taxi, which may, again, have a Muslim driver who refuses to take the passenger for carrying alcohol.

On the other hand, pharmacies, particularly large ones can afford to hire a second pharmacist to ensure that birth control prescriptions can be filled without having to force a particular pharmacist to fill a particular prescription. While this may not happen all the time in practice, it's relatively easy to legislate and to enforce. Smaller pharmacies can argue that they don't keep birth control on hand because they simply cannot afford to carry reasonable quantities of every drug on the market, and point out that there is generally enough competition in a given area that some pharmacy will carry the drugs in question.

Not that the prejudices don't come into play; they probably do... but there are legislative reasons and market differences that can help explain the dichotomy that don't involve specific prejudices against various groups of people.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-05-07 23:51 (UTC)
(no subject)
Another issue at stake is that in the case of the cab driver, it's not possible to immediately pull in a substitute cab driver. If one cab driver refuses to give a person a ride, the person may have to wait a large and unknown amount of time for the next available taxi, which may, again, have a Muslim driver who refuses to take the passenger for carrying alcohol.

Actually, there are many cabs lined up waiting for dispatch at airports, and a dispatch coordinator directing customers to cabs. The cabbies' argument is that there always would be another cab available -- if one is not already there, then one will be along in a few minutes. In contrast, most pharmacies have only one actual pharmacist on staff, with the number of assistants (like my high school friend fungal_rose) varying with the size of the pharmacy. There have been cases in some conservative towns and small cities where no pharmacist in town would fill birth control prescriptions.
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Liz
stellae
2007-05-08 00:52 (UTC)
(no subject)
The airport is a special case, though. Trying to hail a cab almost anywhere in Minneapolis that's not the airport (or a classy hotel with a concierge) is pretty hard, and it's really difficult to legislate one policy for the airport and another for cabbies who aren't picking up fares at the airport.

And yes, I know about the conservative towns and small cities, but there's something in there -- on all sides of this -- of 'there exists a set of data that prove any hypothesis'... it's not as if there were no availability of birth control whatsoever in these areas. Additionally, it takes some planning, but it's possible to get a prescription for most birth control filled online, and often one can get sample packs for the first month or two from the prescribing doctor, and for a variety of reasons, it is recommended that people use other methods of birth control in addition to some from of the Pill. Is it fair, then, to demand that a pharmacy stock a prescription for the one or two people who chooses to take it if the pharmacist is morally deeply uncomfortable with dispensing it?

(To some degree I'm playing devil's advocate at this point... I realize that many people, including me, take the Pill for legitimate medical reasons that haven't got much to do with the prevention of pregnancy and it's not really fair to deny them adequate medical care, or to cause said medical care to be highly inconvenient for these people. My point is that it's sometimes easier (if annoying) to find an adequate substitute for a pharmacist who follows his conscience than a cabbie).

Unrelatedly, it surprises me that this would be a big problem at airports where customers would generally have alcohol packed in their luggage. If the cabbies insist that they have a right to ask passengers what they're carrying, that's an invasion of privacy and the cabbie then really has no right to refuse to drive someone someplace on religious grounds.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-05-08 02:08 (UTC)
(no subject)
Ah, I didn't make it clear that this was specific to airport cabbies. One needs special credentials to be a cabbie there (I know from my dad's business).

As for birth control, not all doctors have samples to give out, and not all insurance carriers allow online prescription refills -- online blogs abound with stories of women unable to fill their prescriptions, or who have to resort to paying full-price online. In any case, it can be a lot more complicated for a woman to run around town trying to find a willing pharmacist than travelers to find a willing cab driver at the airport, and I just find it interesting that in the former case religious choice is at least sometimes acceptable while in the latter it is not.
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catachthonian
catachthonian
2007-05-08 05:34 (UTC)
(no subject)
Hmm...yes, if it's only airport cabbies, that does make it less likely to increase the DUI risk.

Regarding birth control, I thought that the scariest issue was denying women the "morning after" pill, which needs to be taken in a very narrow time frame. If you know that there are logistical obstacles to getting your monthly supply of birth control, you can at least plan ahead for it...but if you discover at the last minute that your pharmacist doesn't believe in "Plan B", things could get a bit dicey.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-05-08 02:14 (UTC)
(no subject)
By the way, one of my motivations for posting this is that I do find it strange that the population is split on birth control but not on alcohol, given that alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs in terms of its physical and social effects and addictive properties. It is true that some vocal groups have been attacking birth control and such vocal groups don't exist for alcohol, at least not anymore. But I personally find that pretty fucked up.
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catachthonian
catachthonian
2007-05-08 05:28 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think the failure of Prohibition is responsible for the absence of strong temperance movements today. Focusing on drunk driving is the primary strategy people have come up with to avoid repeating that particular chapter in history.
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The Water Seeker: wineriver
plymouth
2007-05-08 00:08 (UTC)
(no subject)
picture_keywordwineriver
I think an additional issue to consider is that drunk-driving is a major problem that we've tried to counter partly with a BIG publicity campaign about having a designated driver or taking a cab. The last thing we want is for a cabbie to refuse to give someone a ride and have then respond "well then fuck it - I'll just drive myself". The corralary of "well then fuck it - I'll just skip the birth control" does not IMMEDIATELY endager innocent bystanders.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-05-08 02:39 (UTC)
(no subject)
Indeed -- by some measures, alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs (see comment above).
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catachthonian
catachthonian
2007-05-08 00:14 (UTC)
(no subject)
My instinct is also that the decision has more to do with Americans' relative feelings about alcohol and birth control than it has to do with their relative feelings about Muslims and conservative Christians. But who knows?

In the case of alcohol, there are two possible issues in play. One is the cultural acceptance of drunkenness as one of our inalienable rights (unlike birth control). But the other is the opposition to drunk driving -- and making it as easy as possible for drunk people to take cabs is one way of reducing DUI's. Maybe if I'm drunk and a cabbie refuses me, I won't wait 5 minutes for the next cab, and I'll just drive home and kill somebody on the way instead.
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catachthonian
catachthonian
2007-05-08 00:15 (UTC)
(no subject)
Heh. Plymouth just made the same point as I was typing my reply.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2007-05-08 02:41 (UTC)
(no subject)
How strange I find the feelings about these two issues is my point exactly ... see comments above. :~)
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threadwalker
threadwalker
2007-05-08 00:39 (UTC)
(no subject)
"Could it be a prejudice against Muslims in the former case, or perhaps a more tolerant attitude toward alcohol?"

I would say both, plus the political issue of birth control and the religious right providing support- plus the fact that birth control is a political issue and alcohol no longer is. Grrrrr.

And then there's gay marriage. Don't get me started on th "separation" of church and state. Riiiiiight.
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guardmisfit
guardmisfit
2007-05-08 04:50 (UTC)
(no subject)
In addition, it goes without speaking that it is also quite possible that homegrown religious extremism is easier to tolerate than that from abroad... because many of the voters and judges making the laws adhere to the homegrown brand themselves and cater to it, and written into it is the notion that its own positions are right and any conflicting positions by those of other religions are wrong. In a country where the majority is supposed to rule... the majority is very influential.

And as threadwalker has stated, separation b/w church and state seems to be eroding, giving us the double standard of allowing pharmacists lawful religiously discriminatory practicies but not cabbies.
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2007-11-12 13:55 (UTC)
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