Going after the morning-after pill

Illinois has become the latest battleground in the fight over women's reproductive rights.

Published April 14, 2005 3:59PM (EDT)

Karen Brauer was a pharmacist at a suburban Cincinnati Kmart until she was fired for refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, which she considered tantamount to abortion. She would give women a hard time over birth control pills. "I'd work on them every month. I'd say, 'Hey, when are you going to get off the pill?'" she told the Chicago Sun-Times recently.

Most women would not appreciate their local pharmacists making crucial reproductive decisions for them, especially in an emergency. But now, the American Center for Law and Justice is trying to secure pharmacists' right to do so, in court. On Wednesday, the right-wing legal group, which was founded by Pat Robertson, filed suit against Illinois' Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich over an emergency order he issued earlier this month requiring pharmacists to fill all contraceptive prescriptions. Blagojevich handed down the executive order after a pharmacist in Chicago refused to dispense Plan B, the morning-after pill, to a customer. The pharmacist's supporters defended him by invoking the state's Right of Conscience Act, which permits doctors and other "medical personnel" to deny health care services to a patient if it violates their moral convictions. Gov. Blagojevich says the law does not apply to druggists; the ACLJ disagrees.

Eleven other states are now debating similar legislation; four others -- Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia and South Dakota -- have laws that specifically protect any pharmacist who puts his or her conscience before an obligation to a woman who is seeking to exercise her reproductive rights.

On the other side of the issue, a handful of states are considering laws that would require pharmacists to fulfill their professional obligation to dispense all medications. Under two bills pending in the California legislature, druggists could face censure for refusing to fill a scrip.

"We're simply trying to ensure that consumers -- women -- are not abandoned and that they'll have timely access to the medication," state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, author of one of the bills, told the L.A. Times.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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