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ACLJ sues Walgreens over ‘morning-after’ pill firings

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (BP)–The American Center for Law and Justice is suing Walgreens after the company fired four pharmacists who refused to dispense the “morning-after” pill because of religious objections.

The lawsuits were filed in Edwardsville, Ill., Jan. 27 on behalf of the four pharmacists, who had been placed on indefinite unpaid leave Nov. 28. All four were employees of Walgreens stores in Illinois suburbs east of St. Louis.

ACLJ, one of the nation’s leading public interest law firms, said that by firing the employees, Walgreens violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which makes it illegal for any employer “to discriminate against any person in any manner … because of such person’s conscientious refusal … to participate in any way in any form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”

“It couldn’t be any clearer,” Francis Manion, senior counsel for ACLJ, said in a Jan. 27 news release. “In punishing these pharmacists for asserting a right protected by the Conscience Act, Walgreens broke the law.”

Many pro-lifers consider the “morning-after” pill to be an abortifacient because it not only restricts ovulation in a woman but it can act after conception. The method can block implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall, thereby causing an abortion, pro-lifers point out.

In December, ACLJ filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the same four employees, and the law firm is representing the pharmacists in lawsuits against the governor of Illinois and the state’s Department of Professional Regulations over a recently enacted law requiring pharmacists to dispense the “morning-after” pill.

Illinois is the only state to have a rule requiring pharmacists to dispense the pill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, issued an executive order last year requiring all pharmacies in Illinois that carry birth control pills to also fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill, which is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later.

The “morning-after” pill is known by two brands, Preven and Plan B, and the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether it will permit over-the-counter sale of Plan B without a prescription to women 16 years of age and older.

“Walgreens has been trying to excuse its callous firing of these four pharmacists by blaming the governor and his unlawful executive order. But none of the other major retail pharmacies have interpreted the order the way Walgreens has,” Manion said. “The others are doing what the law actually requires — they’re accommodating those pharmacists who object to dispensing these drugs while, at the same time, serving all of their customers. For whatever reason, Walgreens chose not to respect its pharmacists. That’s why we’re going to court.”

More than two-thirds, or 69 percent, of pharmacists believe they should be able to refuse to fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill, according to a survey conducted in December by HCD Research of Flemington, N.J. The survey also revealed 39 percent of pharmacists believe they should not be required by state law to fill prescriptions they object to; 37 percent said they should be able to refuse to fill a prescription but should be required to refer a customer to another pharmacist.

In a separate incident, the Peoria Journal Star in Peoria, Ill., reported Jan. 12 that a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood had filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations against a Walgreens in West Peoria after a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for the “morning-after” pill and did not refer her to another pharmacy.

And in Missouri, a part-time pharmacist at a Target store in St. Charles was fired Jan. 1 after refusing to fill prescriptions for the “morning-after” pill for the past five years. Heather Williams has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and she blames Planned Parenthood rather than Target for the problem because the pro-choice organization has beefed up efforts to persuade major pharmacy chains to agree to fill the emergency contraception prescription, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“I’m not in judgment of anyone. I want my right not to fill something, much as they have their right to get Plan B filled,” Williams said, adding that if she had to direct a patient to another pharmacy to have the prescription filled, she’d still be aiding in an act she believes is harmful to unborn children.

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