ACLU says decision is a victory for women's health
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MADISON - The American Civil Liberties Union said today's decision by a Wisconsin court allowing the state's discipline of a pharmacist who refused to refill a prescription for birth control pills strikes an important balance between religious liberty and women's health.
"We are pleased that the court recognized that individual pharmacists with religious objections cannot prevent women from obtaining contraception," said Sondra Goldschein, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Pharmacies should honor individual pharmacists' religious beliefs wherever possible; however, the patient's right to obtain legally prescribed medication should always come first."
In 2002, pharmacist Neil Noesen refused based on his personal religious beliefs to refill a woman's valid prescription for birth control pills. Noesen also interfered with the woman's efforts to fill the prescription at another pharmacy. As a result, the woman missed the first dose of her medication and was forced to use a back-up method of birth control. The state Pharmacy Examining Board subsequently disciplined Noesen for his failure to adequately inform his employer of his religious objections to participating in the filling of prescriptions for contraception and for his refusal to promptly transfer this prescription to another pharmacy.
"While individual pharmacists may have sincere religious objections to birth control, this does not give them license to prevent women from getting the health care they need," said Laurence Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "There are ways to honor religious beliefs and a patient's rights; contrary to professional standards, Noesen made no effort in this case to ensure the patient's health care needs were met."
Today's Court of Appeals's decision held that Noesen's refusal to transfer the prescription violates a pharmacist's standard of care. Requiring all pharmacists to act in a professionally competent manner protects the public health, enhances patient autonomy, and promotes women's equality, the ACLU said.
Today's case is Noesen v. Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing Pharmacy Examining Board, No. 2006AP1110. Lawyers on the friend-of-the-court brief include Goldschein of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee attorney Jacqueline E. Boynton.
For more information about the ACLU's position on religious refusals and reproductive rights at the pharmacy see: