Pharmacist refused to give morning-after pill for religious reasons, woman’s lawsuit claims

A woman sued a pharmacist who refused to fill her prescription for an emergency contraceptive pill for religious reasons, according to Minnesota court records.

A jury trial for the lawsuit — originally filed in December 2019 — began on Monday, August 1, according to court records. A verdict is expected later this week.

In the lawsuit, a McGregor, Minnesota mother accuses her local pharmacy of violating her rights and discriminating against her on the basis of gender after a pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for the emergency contraceptive pill during a January 2019 incident, civilian says complaint.

The pharmacist, who is also a pastor at a local church, refused to provide the morning after pill, telling the woman it was due to her “beliefs”, according to court documents.

Lawyers for the pharmacist and the pharmacy did not respond to McClatchy News’ August 3 request for comment.

After being told about two other pharmacies that wouldn’t give her the pill, the woman ended up driving more than 100 miles round trip to a pharmacy that was willing to fill her prescription, according to the complaint. She took the prescribed medication and did not become pregnant.

The pharmacist later said in a deposition that he had refused to provide emergency contraception three times before the 2019 case. On two of those occasions, the pharmacist refused to give the women Plan B because of his “religious opinions”.

The Minnesota case was filed years before the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision and before Congress passed the Right to Contraception Act, but the trial is taking place in the middle of these national political debates.

The case concerns Minnesota’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sex – “sex” being defined to include “pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions”, according to the trial.

According to Judge David F. Hermerding of the Atkin County District Court, the central issue is “whether he deliberately misled, obscured, and set up roadblocks in [the woman’s] path to obtaining his legal prescription for Ella”, an emergency contraceptive drug, and whether the pharmacy itself had “adequate policies in place both to accommodate any of its pharmacist’s beliefs and its duty to the public to be non-discriminatory”.

For this reason, the pharmacist will not be allowed to use terms such as “religious freedom”, “freedom of conscience” and the like in his defense at trial, the judge ordered. Similarly, because the drug denied is a contraceptive such as condoms or birth control, used to prevent a pregnancy and not to terminate one, the judge ordered that terms like “abortion” and “terminating a pregnancy” not are not allowed.

The pharmacist is allowed to explain his beliefs “but not in such a way as to confuse the jury into believing this is a religious liberty contest,” the judge ordered.

The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, August 4.

The woman’s lawyers, the nonprofit Gender Justice, told McClatchy News they would release a statement after the verdict.

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