Issue: "Motel 1600," Sept. 6, 1997

Personnel is policy

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has spent a lot of time lately trying to convince conservative Republicans that he's not abandoning their agenda. He's not made his job any easier by naming Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) to succeed Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) as chairman of the Speaker's Planning Advisory Committee. Mr. Paxon was pushed out of that position as punishment for his role in the recent failed coup attempt. Mr. Greenwood is a staunch abortion-industry supporter, even voting consistently to protect partial-birth abortion. Christina Martin, the Speaker's press secretary, downplayed the committee's importance. The committee, she said, "is not a policy-setting group but a planning group." The committee "mostly makes recommendations," she added. "Anyone with a personal investment in a topic [such as abortion] would need to recuse themselves [from those topics] and let someone else do the planning." Not everyone is buying that line of reasoning. "Personnel is policy," said Penny Pullen, president of the Life Advocacy Alliance. "It is not credible to suggest that Mr. Greenwood's activism for causes that are alien to the Republican Party would have no effect on the internal party committee that he chairs. I think that it sets a pattern, and if he [Mr. Gingrich] wanted to disabuse people of the notion that he isn't moving to the left, he should not have appointed Jim Greenwood."

Legislating morality?

Who says you can't legislate morality? In Michigan at least, legislation has had a role in saving the lives of a growing number of preborn infants. Abortions in Michigan decreased by 15.5 percent between 1993 and 1996. The decline since 1988 is 35.4 percent. "Michigan is a national leader in protecting the unborn," Gov. John Engler stated in a press release. John Truscott, Gov. Engler's press secretary, cited a variety of factors in the decline. "We're doing a better job on abstinence programs ... there's been a shift in emphasis in those programs, and we're now promoting abstinence as a crucial part of any education effort. We've combined federal money with state money in promoting more of a sense of responsibility. When you add them up, each [effort] is a component and ends up being pretty significant." Mr. Truscott also pointed to dramatic changes in the welfare system that have promoted work, giving mothers more resources to raise children and less reason to abort them. Michigan's legislature also overwhelmingly passed a partial-birth abortion ban in July. The ban was subsequently overturned by a federal judge who claimed that the bill's language was too vague. If an appeal to the judge's ruling is unsuccessful, or no appeal is filed, legislators have vowed to rewrite the bill to satisfy the objections and pass it again.

A bitter pill

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Kmart is in the middle of a controversy involving several pharmacists who wouldn't keep their religious convictions bottled up. Last December in Indiana, a female pharmacist was fired by the Troy, Mich.-based discount chain after refusing to fill a prescription for a so-called "morning-after pill." And in June, a Kmart pharmacist in Utah stated publicly that he wouldn't prescribe the pills, citing his personal beliefs. That pharmacist, Michael Katsonis, was allowed to keep his job, but has since left the company. Kmart officials contend they do everything they can to accommodate a pharmacist's religious convictions. "We do not make an issue out of it. We're not in this to persecute pharmacists," said Dan Jarvis, Kmart media relations specialist. "We just want to make sure patients get their medication." The "morning-after" pill is essentially a standard birth control pill administered in very high doses. It keeps a fertilized egg from implanting into a woman's uterus. Mr. Jarvis said his company's policy is to have another pharmacist at the store fill the prescription. If there is only one, or another pharmacist isn't available, they try to find one at another local Kmart. Mr. Jarvis said most Kmarts have two or more pharmacists. But in the Indiana case, there wasn't another pharmacist available, so the ax fell. One reason it didn't fall on Mr. Katsonis's neck, Mr. Jarvis said, is that no one tried to have a "morning after" pill prescription filled on his watch. Otherwise, he also could have been fired. Official company policy, Mr. Jarvis stated, is that a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription "could be fired. We don't want to say they would be." Asked about the apparent contradiction in saying that Kmart tolerates religious beliefs, but that a pharmacist could be fired for acting on those beliefs, Mr. Jarvis answered, "We go above and beyond in terms of letting pharmacists remain true to their beliefs."


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