Editor’s Note: Panic! At the Pharmacy

Conservatives are targeting pharmacies in their latest moral panic to try to bring in a new era of American authoritarianism.

Graphic illustration of the outside of a pharmacy with neon sign that reads Panic! At the Pharmacy
Pharmacies, like schools, have become a particular target of conservatives’ newest moral panic. Library of Congress/Cage Rivera/Rewire News Group illustration

For more, check out our special issue.

Look around. It’s impossible to miss. The country is awash in a new wave of moral panic, and gender equality is squarely in the center.

Conservative politicians and advocates have smeared public school teachers and librarians as “groomers” over age-appropriate and scientifically accurate sex education curricula and access to books and materials that merely feature queer folks. Drag show bans are all the rage in conservative-captured states in not-so-thinly-veiled attempts to simply ban folks from being trans and gender-nonconforming in public.

The resurgence of the parental rights movement is grounded in moral and gender panic. In its sights is everything from banning LGBTQ people from functionally being out in public to making birth control access an impossibility.

Meanwhile, abortion restrictions have ratcheted up from bans on the procedure to attempts to even block the very utterance of the word “abortion” online.

The vibes, as the kids say, are deteriorating.

And it’s all happening at precisely the same time a wave of neo-fascism is taking control of conservatism generally. That is not a coincidence.

Moral panic is an essential element to the rise of authoritarianism. It’s a necessary tool used to impose control of a very specific vision of social order—a predominately white Christian nationalistic one—that elevates “traditional families” as “natural” and the necessary core of their vision of American life and governance.

And it’s taken hold of the conservative movement like a fever dream.

It’s also not new. Whether it’s a Red Scare, a Lavender Panic, or the “chastity” crusade of Anthony Comstock, each wave of moral panic in this country coincides with reactionary politics to social progress. That’s why moral crusaders are so hell-bent on controlling public information and public spaces—their entire mission depends on maintaining that control against the will of the majority.

Pharmacies, like schools, have become a particular location of this panic, which is one reason we chose to ground this Special Issue, titled Panic! At the Pharmacy, in the role they play in the conservative movement’s fights against gender equality. They are places where access to health care and scientifically grounded health-care information come together. And that makes them a necessary target of this new moral panic.

But while waves of moral panic and political backlash in this country are not new, neither are movements that resist it. It’s no different this time around, either. Conservatives may drum up every way imaginable to ban abortion and contraception nationwide, but abortion pills will always exist, and advocates and activists—including young people—will always find workarounds.

That doesn’t change the fact that these are precarious times and that conservatives are weaponing panic to try and bring in a new era of American authoritarianism.