Center for Law & Religious Freedom Dispute Charges Against Pharmacist Acting in Religious

In a hearing against Neil Noesen last month, the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board charged the pharmacist of engagement “in a pharmacy practice which constitutes a danger to the health, welfare or safety of a patient” when he refused to refill a birth control prescription. Yesterday, the Center for Law & Religious Freedom filed their dispute against the charges, in support of Noesen.

Noesen, a devout Roman Catholic and licensed pharmacist, began working with the K-Mart pharmacy in 2002 through a placement agency. He and K-Mart Managing Pharmacist Ken Jordanby made an agreement allowing Noesen to abstain from filling prescriptions for contraceptives, due to his religious beliefs. Instead, the prescriptions would be processed by Jordanby.

In July 2002, a patient brought in a prescription for birth control medication at a time when Jordanby was not on duty. Noesen refused to fill the prescription and asked the patient to return the following day. However, the next day Jordanby was not at work and again Noesen declined to fill the prescription. He also declined to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy. The patient received her prescription two days after the initial visit to the pharmacy, missing one day of medication.

Although she suffered no harm due to the delay, the patient filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing, resulting in charges that Noesen’s refusal to fill the prescription due to religious beliefs was a threat to the health of patients and the public. State regulations state that while Noesen has the right to refuse, he should have followed the protocol to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.

Noesen declined the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing’s offer to drop the charges if Noesen payed necessary fines. Instead, he decided to dispute the charges with the help of Steven H. Aden and Krystal Williams-Oby, attorneys with the Christian Legal Society.

Testimonies given at the October hearing represented both sides of the issue. Paul Rosowski, a licensed pharmacist in Wisconsin, testified that Noesen should have notified the patient that she could fill her prescription at the emergency room. In support of Noesen, Dr. Jerome Wernow, a bioethicist and former pharmacy manager, testified that Noesen’s actions met or exceeded the standards of conduct. The charges could result in fines against Noesen or possible revocation of his pharmacy license.

Aden stated, “Wisconsin’s position in this case appears to be that the patient’s right to receive her birth control pills trumps a pharmacist’s right to exercise his religious conscience in virtually every case. This view is not supported by state and national ethical standards for pharmacists, and is directly opposed to the individual pharmacist’s right of religious exercise guaranteed by the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions.”

Noesen’s case has stimulated more debate between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. The case has motivated the recent push by pro-life groups for a pharmacist conscience clause bill, giving legal rights to pharmacists who refuse to dispense drugs or transfer prescriptions to other pharmacies.

“It recognizes that pharmacists should not be forced to choose between their consciences and livelihoods. They should not be compelled to become parties of abortion,” said Matt Sande of Pro-Life Wisconsin, according to USA TODAY.