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French pharmacist punished for refusing to sell IUDs appeals to human rights court

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August 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A pro-life pharmacist whose license was suspended in 2016 after he refused to sell intrauterine devices (IUDs) is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In 2015, a customer entered Bruno Pichon’s pharmacy hoping to fill a prescription for an IUD, explained the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), which is representing Pichon. He explained why he did not stock any, and suggested that she obtain it from one of several nearby pharmacies.

In 2016, French authorities punished Pichon with a week-long suspension of his ability to practice, Gènéthique reports, because of the device’s capacity to function as an abortifacient. French law has some conscience protections for other healthcare providers, but not pharmacists.

“The prohibition to practice pharmacy for one week may seem like a light sentence, [but] the true significance of this sentence is that it obliges Mr Pichon to sell IUDs and other similar products (such as the morning-after pill) in the future, i.e. this sentence forces him to go against his conscience or leave the profession,” the ECLJ wrote.

After multiple unsuccessful appeals in France, Pichon is now taking his case before the European human rights tribunal. The ECRJ argues that French and international precedent is on his side.

“No standard requires pharmacists to hold certain products in stock,” they write, citing previous French court rulings that determined pharmacists can’t be punished for not providing contraceptives if they have no contraceptives to provide.

More significantly, they note, the ECHR affirmed in 2011 that states have an obligation to “guarantee […] the effective exercise of the freedom of conscience of health care professionals,” and that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has passed resolutions endorsing “the right to conscientious objection in the context of legal medical care.”

Unfortunately, Pichon’s legal struggle and inability to practice led him to “leave his profession at the age of 63, five years before the deadline he had set,” the ECLJ added. “He has sold his pharmacy and is no longer registered as a pharmacist.”

But while victory in the European court would come too late for Pichon himself, they noted, he hopes his efforts will benefit others in the future who could otherwise be “forced to leave their chosen profession” for “follow[ing] their convictions.”

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