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Illinois druggists pledge to defy rule

Womb controllers get uppity in Illinois. Yesterday, I posted about the city of Austin’s decision to prohibit a pharmacy from refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control, emergency contraceptives and other medications.

Today it’s Illinois’ turn to navigate this thorny issue.

Metro East pharmacists Peggy Pace, John Menges and Gaylord Richard Quayle say they will not compromise their religious beliefs by filling emergency contraception prescriptions – something Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says they must do.

Rod Blagojevich and Ron Stephens face off over women’s reproductive freedom and faith.

Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Greenville and a pharmacist, said he, too, will defy the governor’s emergency rule that a legislative committee made permanent last week, forcing morning-after pill prescriptions to be filled.

Their positions set up a legal showdown between the state and pro-life pharmacists who see filling the prescriptions, in essence, as participating in an abortion. The action by Blagojevich has health care professionals across the country watching to see how it plays out. Blagojevich is the only governor who has forced pharmacists’ hands.

…The governor said he put the rule in place to protect “a woman’s right to have access to medicine her doctor says she needs. Nothing more. Nothing less.” Stephens says the governor is bowing to pressure by pro-choice groups and wading into an area that he does not belong. As a Christian, Stephens said he is not bound professionally to do something that is contrary to his religious beliefs. Like the pharmacists suing the governor, Stephens says the new rule conflicts with the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which allows medical professionals to refuse to do certain procedures, such as abortions, if they are morally opposed.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said the act does not apply specifically to pharmacists and leaves an out for health care providers to refuse treatment to a patient. “The governor introduced the emergency rule (on April 1) when it became clear there were cases where women were being denied access to doctor-prescribed, FDA-approved contraceptives,” said governor spokesman Abby Ottenhoff.

The pharmacists who filed the suit could not be reached for comment last week. They are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

“Anybody in the health care field is protected from discrimination if they refuse on the basis of morals, religion or ethics to participate in any form of health care,” said ACLJ senior counsel Frank Manion. He argues that the Right of Conscience Act governs pharmacists and supersedes any rule that the governor or legislators might hand down. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules agreed on Tuesday to let stand the emergency rule, making it permanent. Otherwise, it would have expired after 150 days.

While there are investigations under way, no pharmacy has been disciplined for denying access, according to the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. The emergency rule applies to the pharmacy, not the pharmacist.

That is why Walgreens sent a series of terse reminders to its pharmacists that they must comply with the rule. Pharmacists that violate the rule “will be making their Illinois pharmacist’s license vulnerable to discipline,” states an e-mail that Walgreens pharmacists got from their supervisors.

Thanks to House Blender Cat for the pointer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding