Moral Absurdity

The Arizona Legislature should start caring more about children than zygotes

Now let me get this straight.

It's okay for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a medical doctor's prescription for a morning-after pill on religious grounds.

But there is no way the very same pharmacist should be required to put cold pills containing pseudoephedrine -- the key ingredient for trailer-trash brews of crystal meth -- behindthe counter.

In other words, let's let druggists wield an unchecked moral veto on a woman's right to choose.

But let's not make pharmacists do a little extra work when it comes to a product that, when used to manufacture methamphetamine, is known to kill kids and mess up unborn babies.

Absurd, right? Well, not to Arizona's crusading Republicans, who piously control both the Arizona House and Senate as if they were a papal conclave.

Under the Republican banner, the emergency abortion of a zygote (that's a couple of cells along the way toward becoming a human being) is verboten if the person behind the drug counter says so -- for whatever reason.

But the reality that children are getting doused in mind-rotting chemical hazes of sulfuric acid and rat poison wafting from fiberglass bathtubs of crystal meth is just the unavoidable cost of doing business.

So much for protecting the helpless -- who are already born.

What I'm talking about here is that Religious Right fanatics dominating our Republican legislative leadership have rammed through House Bill 2541 allowing health-care professionals -- including pharmacists, for Christ's sake -- to refuse to supply emergency contraceptives on religious or moral grounds.

"Not only do women have the right to choose, but so do the doctors and pharmacists," spews Senator Dean Martin, sponsor of the overreaching bill that has got to be unconstitutional.

Governor Janet Napolitano has strongly hinted that she will veto the moronic idea. But unlike the Legislature's first budget proposal that she rejected seconds after it landed on her desk, Napolitano hasn't yet put the kibosh on this so-called "conscience" bill as this column goes to press.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders -- including my favorite East Valley Mormon kooks, Representative Russell Pearce, co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Representative Eddie Farnsworth, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee -- don't want anything to get in the way of the bottom line.

Even if kids' lives are at stake.

Pearce and Farnsworth are against other legislation modeled after an Oklahoma law approved last year that slashed the number of clandestine meth labs operating in that state by 80 percent.

Arizona should pass a similar law before the Legislature adjourns, because (unlike what Martin wants to do) this is an idea that makes sense.

I'm normally not an advocate of drug-control laws. I think the War on Drugs has been a miserable failure that has overwhelmed our criminal justice system and needlessly turned regular, law-abiding folks into felons.

Marijuana, for example, should be decriminalized to allow possession of small amounts and even cultivation of a couple of plants for personal consumption. This would deliver a huge blow to the drug cartels making bank on prohibition.

At the same time, there should be draconian penalties for anyone selling or distributing pot to minors. Just like there are for booze.

Crystal meth, however, falls into a different category, but not only because it can really mess with your mind.

For many people, meth is simply overwhelming. It becomes the dominant focus in life to the point that nothing else matters -- even the children of users and manufacturers.

Unlike growing a few pot plants in the backyard, the manufacture of crystal meth by brain-addled amateur chemists in makeshift labs is an extremely dangerous endeavor. It is a huge problem that is exacting a deadly and expensive toll on our society.

Meth labs are notoriously toxic places because of the chemical stew used to manufacture the drug. Children have been routinely poisoned by adults who are in hyperdrive and oblivious to the noxious chemicals they are conjuring up.

In the past four years, police have busted more than 1,200 meth labs in Arizona. During this same period, more than 362 children have been rescued from such labs. Many have been placed into foster homes. Many of these kids have tested positive for meth.

The state picked up five more kids last week when a police task force raided two homes. In one case, an 18-month-old boy inside a house near 104th Avenue and Camelback Road was found just feet away from a batch of meth that was emitting high levels of extremely dangerous chemicals into the air.

I'm sure cops have only busted a fraction of the number of tweakers cranking out crank. Which means thousands of children are regularly exposed to deadly chemicals released during the manufacture of the drug.

There's no way to restrict the knowledge of how to make meth. Anyone can get a handy recipe for cooking it over the Internet.

The only way to put at least a temporary cork in the meth trade is to reduce the supply of the key ingredient -- pills containing pseudoephedrine.

Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard has vigorously backed the Oklahoma-style bill introduced by moderate Republican Representative Tom O'Halleran of Sedona. At least 29 states are debating similar legislation.

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