Can a Pharmacist Refuse to Transfer an Order Based on Religious Views?
Rachel Peterson, a Michigan woman, had to bear the unfortunate circumstance that the child she was carrying was no longer viable; the fetus had no heartbeat. She decided to take a short vacation, within Michigan, to deal with the devastating loss. Her doctor prescribed misprostol to complete her miscarriage and help with the postpartum hemorrhage. However, a pharmacist at the local Meijer's market refused to fill the prescription, based on his religious values as a Catholic, since the drug can be used in conjunction with another drug to induce abortions.
Peterson painfully divulged that this wasn't for an abortion -- the baby was already dead. But the pharmacist still refused. Not only did he refuse, but he refused to let her speak to a manager, to ask another pharmacist to fill it, or transfer the prescription to another pharmacy. Is this legal? It depends.
Conscience Clause and Right to Refuse Prescriptions
In some states, the "conscience clause" gives medical professionals, including pharmacists, the right to refuse abortion services, including emergency contraception, based on moral or religious values. This clause was created in response to Roe v. Wade, which made it unconstitutional for states to outlaw or restrict abortions. There are two main types of Right to Refuse laws, which pertain to pharmacists and the conscience clause. They are:
- Right to Refuse With Patient Protections
These laws allow pharmacists to not fill prescriptions based on their religious beliefs, but require plans be put in place so that the patient is not affected. Pharmacists are not allowed to obstruct the patient's right to the medication, which usually requires another pharmacist in the same pharmacy to fill the prescription. States that have these protections include: Alabama, California, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania
- Right to Refuse Without Patient Protections
These laws allow pharmacist to not fill prescriptions based on religious beliefs or conscientious objections. Pharmacists have no duty to make sure the prescription is filled by someone else. States that have these protections include: Georgia, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, South Dakota, Maine, Missouri, and Texas
Meijer Pharmacist Violated Michigan Law
In Peterson's case, Michigan has no conscience clause. Though the Michigan Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act (HB 4309) was proposed in 2015, it never passed. As such, the Michigan pharmacist had a duty to fill the prescription, despite his religious objections. He should have requested another pharmacist in his pharmacy to fill the prescription, or at the very least, transfer it to one that would. Though Meijer wouldn't discuss the specifics of this case, they would say that this violated their practice and that the pharmacist at the heart of this case no longer works for Meijer.
If you or someone you love has had their medical prescriptions denied fulfillment at a pharmacy, and you believe this is in violation of civil rights, contact a local civil rights attorney. Refusing to dispense medicines can have devastating affects, both physically and mentally. A civil rights attorney may be able to prevent this from happening again at your pharmacy, and maybe even secure monetary relief, if applicable.
- Find a Civil Rights Attorney Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- Human Right Vs. Legal Right: Lessons From the Pope, Kim Davis (FindLaw Law and Daily Life)
- Court: Secular Anti-Abortion Organization Must Offer Contraception Coverage (FindLaw US Third Circuit)
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