Sanctions on Pharmacist Upheld for Refusal to Refer Birth Control Seeker

A Wisconsin appeals court upheld sanctions Tuesday against a pharmacist from Minnesota who refused to fill a college student's prescription for birth control pills because of religious objections.

Pharmacist Neil Noesen had refused to fill the prescription of a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout while working as a substitute pharmacist at a Menomonie Kmart in 2002. Furthermore, he declined to refer the woman to another pharmacy.

The 34-year-old pharmacist told regulators that he is a devout Roman Catholic and acted like he did because he didn't want to commit a sin by "impairing the fertility of a human being," The Associated Press reported. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to contraception.

In Tuesday's ruling, the three-judge panel of 3rd District Court of Appeals said the punishment Noesen received from The Pharmacy Examining Board in a 2005 ruling did violate his "right of conscience" to religiously oppose birth control.

The court ruled that while Noesen had the right to refuse to provide the contraceptive, he was wrong to refuse to refer the woman to another pharmacy.

In 2005, the Pharmacy Examining Board had allowed Noesen to keep his license as long as he informs all future employers in writing of his objection to dispensing birth control pills and of steps he would take to refer the patient elsewhere. The board also ordered the pharmacist to attend ethics classes.

The appeals court, however, asked the board to reconsider its decision ordering Noesen to pay $20,000 in legal fees.

The issue of a pharmacist's "right to conscience" is also being taken up in other states. Two pharmacy owners in Illinois asked the State Supreme Court two weeks ago to overturn a rule that requires them to dispense an "emergency" contraception pill in spite of their moral objections. In Washington, a federal judge ruled last November that objecting pharmacists can refuse to dispense orders on the drug but must refer customers to another nearby source.

Thomas Brejcha, a Chicago lawyer who represented Noesen, said he expects to appeal the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.