by Terry Bellamak

Kim Davis is the county clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky. She refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex partners, after same-sex marriage became legal in all fifty states. Except for a few die-hard right-wingers and evangelicals, she has been roundly excoriated for not doing her duty and refusing to issue the marriage licences. Now she is in jail for contempt of court.

And jail is where she belongs.

But here’s what I find confusing. Pharmacists and doctors and other health care providers do the very same thing Kim Davis did, and suffer no consequences whatsoever. This is true of both the US and NZ. Pharmacists can refuse to provide lawfully prescribed contraception. Doctors can refuse to prescribe it. If you ask a doctor about getting an abortion, they can show you the door without even telling you where you can go to get some actual help with that. Nurses can refuse to participate in abortions as well. All this stuff happens every day.

Now, the obvious difference is that in the case of Kim Davis, the county clerk was breaking the law, whereas the law in NZ (and in the US) specifically allows doctors and nurses and pharmacists to refuse to help you. But that’s a distinction that leaves the most important question unanswered. Why should one refusal to do one’s job be illegal and the other fine and dandy?

In both cases the providers of a service refuse to do so on the grounds of their own personal morality. Both cases have the effect of enforcing the provider’s morality on someone who neither shares nor agrees with the provider’s moral choices. In both cases their refusal has negative consequences for the people they have refused. One could argue that health care is more necessary and vital to a person’s survival than getting married, which makes that refusal even worse than the other.

Why do we laugh at what a homophobic rube Kim Davis is, while allowing doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to do the very same thing to women seeking reproductive health care?