Susanne Koestner called a Walgreens in Albuquerque to refill her birth control prescription in mid-June. The pharmacist working told her he wouldn’t do it and she should get her birth control the next day from someone else, according to an American Civil Liberties Union news release. He said it was against his religious beliefs.
So Koestner had to call a different Walgreens because she couldn’t wait. (Birth control is time-sensitive.)
“Something is very wrong when a man can walk in to any pharmacy and buy condoms, but a woman can't fill a birth control prescription prescribed to her by a doctor,” says Koestner in the release. “As a patient, I am at the mercy of licensed pharmacists and pharmacies when it comes to being able to receive the medications my doctor has prescribed for me.”
This was a hot topic in 2005, when states were considering whether to make emergency contraception available over the counter. Former Alibi Editor in Chief Christie Chisholm wrote about the issue back then.
Some states have made laws protecting a pharmacist’s right to refuse: Pharmacists can refuse to dispense specifically emergency contraception in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota. So-called “conscience clauses” got their start in the ’70s after Roe v. Wade.
In Illinois, a law was passed demanding pharmacists dispense contraception.
The local chapter of the ACLU says the Albuquerque pharmacist’s refusal constitutes sex discrimination. “... Walgreens is free to accommodate the religious beliefs of its pharmacists,” says ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith in the release. “However, religion cannot be used to discriminate against people, and that is exactly what happened here.”
The ACLU and the Southwest Women’s Law Center sent Walgreens a letter requesting that if a pharmacist on staff can’t fill prescriptions due to religious beliefs, another pharmacist should be on duty who can.