Judge: Ill. Pharmacists Cannot Be Forced to Dispense 'Morning-After' Pill

A judge has ruled that Illinois officials cannot force pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception.

The ruling is in response to a suit filed by two Illinois pharmacists who say the 2005 executive order by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich requiring pharmacies to fill prescription contraceptives violate their religious beliefs.

Sangamon County Judge John Belz on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against the Governor of Illinois and other state officials, ordering them not to enforce the state regulation.

"This is yet another step on the road to full protection for the rights of conscience of all health care workers," Francis J. Manion, a senior counsel at American Center for Law and Justice who argued for the motion, said in a statement Monday.

"In ruling in favor of our clients, the court rejected the attempt of Illinois officials to trample on the rights of our clients and disregard existing laws passed by the legislature for the very purpose of protecting those rights."

The emergency contraception pill known as Plan B also goes by the name the "morning-after" pill, because it can be taken the morning after or within 72 hours of unprotected sex to reduce the chance of pregnancy. The pill contains a higher dosage of hormones than those found in regular birth control pills.

Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog, the plaintiffs in the case, are both pharmacy owners who hold Christian views. They say they are morally opposed to dispensing the pill because there is a chance it could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the womb.

Preventing implantation would be tantamount to abortion, according to the pro-life pharmacists.

Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, which is representing the state in the case, said the judge's ruling was disappointing.

"The administrative rule provides critical protections for women who have a prescription which requires immediate action by a pharmacy," she said, according to the State-Journal Register.

In the suit, filed nearly three and a half years ago, the two pharmacists claimed that state laws protect them from being forced to make health care decisions that violated their moral and religious beliefs.

Lower courts had ruled that the pharmacists had no standing to challenge the 2005 rule because they had not yet been fired or disciplined over the governor's mandate. In December, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a circuit court had to hear arguments in the case, sending the case to Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield, Ill.

A hearing on a request for a permanent injunction on the rule could be held in June.

"We will continue to press this issue until we have obtained full protection for the conscience rights of these professionals who should not have to choose between their deeply held religious beliefs and license revocation and other penalties," said Manion.

Conscience protections for health care workers has become a hot-button issue in the wake of President Obama's proposal to rescind in its entirety a federal regulation put in place by the Bush Administration that protects the rights of pro-life medical personnel.

The "conscience" rule signed by President Bush mandated federally funded health institutions to certify their compliance with existing federal laws that uphold the rights of doctors and nurses to refuse a medical service on religious or moral grounds.

In a proposed rescission, the Obama administration argued the rule "would limit access to patient care" and that people, in rural areas and those otherwise underserved, "could be denied access to services."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 30-day public comment period ends this week.

The ACLJ reported it has heard from more than 200,000 Americans urging President Obama to reconsider and keep the Conscience Clause protections in place. 

Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment from a pro-life senator that would have provided conscience protection on abortion for doctors and medical centers.