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Pharmacists sue Walgreen over contraceptives

Drug NewsJan 31, 06

Four Illinois pharmacists have sued U.S. drugstore chain Walgreen Co., saying they were wrongly fired for refusing to dispense the “morning-after” emergency contraceptive pill.

The four are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal group founded by Christian evangelist Pat Robertson.

The suit, filed on Friday in Madison County, Illinois, charges that the company violated the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which allows health care providers to opt out of procedures they object to on moral grounds.

“It couldn’t be any clearer,” ACLJ attorney Francis Manion said in a statement. “In punishing these pharmacists for asserting a right protected by the Conscience Act, Walgreens broke the law.”

The contraceptive prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, but opponents equate it to abortion.

Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin said the four were not fired but placed on unpaid leave in November and offered jobs in other states.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich last April ordered pharmacists to make the morning-after pill, known as Plan B, available to customers “without delay.” The ACLJ along with several pharmacists have challenged the measure.

Polzin said Walgreen had all of its Illinois pharmacists file an electronic, online statement saying they would follow Illinois pharmacy regulations including Plan B. The four pharmacists refused to agree by a set deadline, he said.

“We have to follow the law. We don’t have a choice in this matter,” Polzin said.

Walgreen’s policy allows pharmacists to decline to fill a prescription if they have a moral objection. However, they must refer the prescription to another employee who can arrange to fill the order swiftly.

Polzin said the four pharmacists worked the overnight shift at 24-hour facilities, and as the only ones on duty, they could not have the prescriptions filled without delay, as state law requires.

He said Walgreen, which operates more than 5,000 stores, offered to transfer them to stores in Missouri or elsewhere where they would not be subject to Illinois law, and to keep them on the payroll while they applied for new state licenses.

“We would be able to put them in nearby stores to where they live now, just over the state line. They are all close to the border,” Polzin said.

The Plan B pill is distributed by Barr Laboratories, a unit of Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc.

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