Pharmacist explains decision to not sell contraception - Catholic Courier

Pharmacist explains decision to not sell contraception

HILTON — Catholic pharmacist Mike Koelzer said he arrived at a moral crossroads in the late 1990s, after a friend informed him of the connection between birth-control pills and abortion.

“She said, ‘Mike, are you aware that birth-control pills can cause abortion?’ I thought she was crazy,” Koelzer recalled.

Instead, confirmation was spelled out in the package inserts of all birth-control pills he dispensed at his pharmacy. In addition to preventing eggs from being released and decreasing sperm mobility, the pills and some other forms of birth control may make the lining of the uterus inhospitable to fertilized eggs, preventing them from becoming implanted, Koelzer said.

During a presentation Nov. 22 at St. Leo Parish, Koelzer recounted that it took four or five years before his father agreed to stop selling artificial birth control at Kay Pharmacy, the Grand Rapids, Mich., business they ran together. Koelzer, who has been featured on “ABC News” and in The Washington Post, also was scheduled to speak to pharmacy students at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, but his appearance there was canceled due to inclement weather.

Koelzer told the St. Leo group that after speaking to his friend, he began to study the Catholic Church’s teaching that it is immoral to use artificial means to prevent conception or to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg because doing so ends a human life at the first phase of its existence.

Several noted church documents have spelled out this position.

“Direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth,” states Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on married love and procreation, Humane Vitae.

“Dignitas Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions,” an instruction issued Dec. 12, 2008, by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, reiterates previous church teachings that birth control pills, intrauterine devices and other methods that can prevent implantation of an embryo are abortifacients, which interrupt the life of a newly created individual.

The instruction notes that it is not known exactly how certain drugs or devices operate. However, the instruction notes, scientific studies have shown that the effect of inhibiting implantation is present in these artificial birth-control methods, even if the methods do not always cause an abortion.

“Anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document said.

Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, said the church recognizes that hormones dispensed in birth-control pills may be of medical benefit for a particular patient, as in the case of those who have endometriosis.

“However, the medical condition that is being treated must be of enough significance to justify the unintended consequence of interrupted contraception or possible abortifacient results,” Armantrout said.

In his talk in Hilton, Koelzer recounted how he presented church teachings to his father, along with a proposal to stop selling artificial birth control, which provided about 4 percent of the small pharmacy’s daily business. Three weeks later, his father left a letter for him outlining dozens of reasons why Kay Pharmacy would continue selling artificial birth control.

Koelzer recalled being devastated that he had not received his father’s approval.

“For me, my hero was my dad. That’s who I wanted to be like,” he said.

Each day after that confrontation, Koelzer continued asking God whether he should stop selling artificial birth control. No answer came until about four or five years later, when Koelzer felt himself being compelled to find a way to stop selling artificial birth control. The timing couldn’t have been worse: Koelzer had a new baby in his home and he was overseeing construction on a new house for his family.

Koelzer said he believes that new home provided the impetus to speak to his father again.

“We can’t use evil to bring about good,” Koelzer said. “I wish that answer would not have come at that point. It would have been so easy to use evil a little bit longer to bring about good.”

When he again broached the subject with his father, his father suggested that they go out to lunch to discuss it.

“He said, ‘Mike, I don’t agree with you, but I support you,'” Koelzer said.

With that support, Koelzer sent a letter to the pharmacy’s customers announcing that as of Feb. 1, 2002, artificial birth control would no longer be sold, and he apologized for any inconvenience. Most of those customers stopped using his pharmacy, he noted.

“Our business kept improving, but it was pretty much what I had predicted,” Koelzer said.

Two days before the store’s employees began pulling artificial birth control off the shelves, Koelzer’s father lost his memory due to cancer and was never able to work at the pharmacy again.

“My dad never had to face his fears about pulling these pills from the shelf,” Koelzer said. “I think God challenged him so heavily that all he had to do was say, ‘Yes.'”

Koelzer said he finally knew why he had felt compelled to act: Had he waited even two more months later to speak with his father, he would never learned of his father’s change of heart.

As for customer reaction, he said he has received irate mail about his decision from people saying they demand that their choice be heard.

“My reply is simply that I get a choice,” Koelzer said. “This is my pharmacy.”

Michigan does not have a conscience clause to protect pharmacists or pharmacy workers if they refuse to sell particular items, Koelzer said. If the state were to enact a mandate forcing pharmacists to sell artificial birth control, Koelzer said he would opt to close his doors.

He pointed out that conscience clauses are complicated moral issues, citing the possibility that pharmacists, for religious reasons, might object to dispensing antidepressants or to filling prescriptions for assisted-suicide medications in Oregon and Washington.

Koelzer’s presentation also featured a talk by Bill Claydon, an Albany-area Catholic who creates pro-life videos, including one that features an interview with a survivor of a saline abortion who is now active in the pro-life movement. Claydon began protesting outside an abortion mill in Wichita, Kan., in October 2005 and subsequently began making videos about abortionist George Tiller’s activities at the facility.

In September 2008, Claydon posted on You Tube a video that he produced for Kansas Coalition for Life about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s voting record on abortion. The video, “Obama: Wrong Change for Children,” features a photo of an aborted baby. The video attracted national attention when You Tube removed it without giving a detailed explanation as to why, other than to say the video was in violation of the site’s community guidelines.

Claydon contends, however, that the video was similar to other pro-life videos on You Tube that show photos of aborted children.

“You Tube has lots of videos like that,” Claydon remarked.

Following news stories about You Tube’s removal of the video, it was posted at a competing Web site at

“Thanks to You Tube’s actions, it was viewed 10,000 times in its entirety,” said Claydon, who is planning to start a business and is continuing to produce pro-life videos.

Claydon said he believes pro-lifers should take a page from Obama’s playbook and use social networks to recruit others to the pro-life movement.

“Outside of politics, we’ve got to work on changing hearts and minds,” Claydon said. “In the meantime, every single day, there are abortions occurring.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more informationabout Mike Koelzer, visit or

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