Federal Court: Pharmacists Can Refuse to Dispense EC

Last week, a Federal court ruled that, despite Illinois law, pharmacists in Illinois can refuse to dispense emergency contraception. The state passed a law in 2005 that requires all pharmacies to dispense EC. As a result, Wal-Mart (and other companies) have disciplined pharmacists that refused to follow the rule. Then came the lawsuits and the bad news.

U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott denied a request Tuesday by Wal-Mart to throw out a lawsuit filed by pharmacist Ethan Vandersand. Scott sided with Vandersand, who had claimed he was legally protected from discipline by the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act when he declined to dispense Plan B.
Vandersand, who lives in Bluffs, formerly worked at the pharmacy in Beardstown’s Wal-Mart. He was put on unpaid leave after he refused to fill a Plan B prescription requested by a nurse practitioner at Springfield’s Planned Parenthood on behalf of a female patient in February 2006.
Wal-Mart had contended the state’s right-of-conscience law doesn’t cover pharmacists. Walgreen Co. has made the same argument in other Illinois lawsuits filed by fired pharmacists.
But Scott wrote in her ruling, “The statute prohibits discrimination against any person for refusing to provide health care because of his conscience.”

I think that this is the one and only time that I will ever take Wal-Mart’s side in a lawsuit. So of course they ended up losing. You know, it really sucks when a company tries to do the right thing– especially when they have such a strong reputation of doing the wrong thing– only to see it blow up in their face. It’s precisely these kinds of ruling that can deter companies from acting in a socially conscious way in the future. And this ruling is certainly going to add fuel to the anti-EC fire. It also has the potential to influence pending cases across the country.
And what’s it all for? To accommodate those who choose professions incompatible with their religious beliefs? I have to say that I’m really not sure what valuing a potentially fertilized egg over a woman has to do with “conscience,” anyway.
Correction/Clarification: it has been brought to my attention that all Wal-Mart has lost is a motion to dismiss in federal court, not the case itself. The misunderstanding arose from the article’s statement that “A federal judge’s ruling this week upholds the right of Illinois pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception.” This is accurate, but the final outcome of the actual case could change that. My understanding, and the impression given in this post, is that an appeal was dismissed, therefore upholding a previous ruling. This is false, and the case can still potentially be won in court. My apologies for the confusion.

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