Earlier this week, an Illinois judge ruled that pharmacists cannot be required to dispense emergency contraception. He cited the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act in his decision, which favored two pharmacists who said that they did not want to sell the “morning-after pill” on religious grounds. The ruling was in response to a 2005 order from then-governor Rod Blagojevich, who said that pharmacists had to fill orders for emergency contraception, regardless of their moral objections.
Although Plan B, or the “morning-after pill,” does not terminate a pregnancy, but it does work very effectively to prevent pregnancy in the 72 hours after a contraceptive failure. Pro-life groups consistently conflate emergency contrapcetion with abortion, leading healthcare workers, like these pharmacists, to claim a moral opposition to dispensing the drug.
In a statement, the chief counsel for the two pharmacists said, “After six long years of litigation, our clients have finally prevailed against a state gvoernment determined to coerce them and pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods.” The Illinois Attorney General plans to appeal, saying that there is a “compelling need” for emergency contraception to be available at all licensed pharmacies.
The issue of access is a crucial one here, especially since it’s difficult to get hard statistics on how often women are refused emergency contraception. The judge said, in the ruling, that “the court heard no evidence of a single person who was ever unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection.” This is despite the fact that, in 2005, NARAL’s Nancy Keenan said that even though there isn’t a mechanism for women to report access denial, “we have heard about cases from Beverly Hills to Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Chicago – it seems to be all over the country.”
Either way, it’s distressing to see another encroachment on women’s reproductive rights, especially since in all of these conversations about violation of religious beliefs, no one is talking about women’s rights to access legal drugs. And it’s especially depressing in light of Obama’s success in rescinding the Bush administration “conscience clause” in March. The fight may have to begin again, but on the state rather than the national level.
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