Walgreens Pharmacist Refuses to Fill Prescription for Miscarriage Medication, Citing Moral Objection

It was October 28, 2009. I was just days away from being 12 weeks pregnant, and I was at my first checkup with my doctor when it became clear that something was wrong. Despite being near the end of the first trimester, no heartbeat could be heard on a doppler. When my doctor pulled out a small, handheld ultrasound and looked at the tiny, grainy image on the screen, he asked me if I was certain of the dates — if it was possible I was maybe few weeks less pregnant than I believed.

I wasn’t. In reality, I had actually miscarried almost three weeks earlier. It was just that my body didn’t know it.

Missed miscarriages are a sadly common and extremely heartbreaking form of pregnancy loss, as the body often continues acting as if it is pregnant. Once a miscarriage is discovered by a doctor — usually at a checkup, and without the pregnant person having any idea that the pregnancy was in any danger — the choices are few and simple: wait for labor to eventually start on its own, or begin the termination process.

Terminating a miscarriage can take place in a clinic or hospital via a vacuum aspiration or D&C, or at home using misoprostol to induce labor and jump start the process of expelling the products of conception. Waiting can increase risk of sepsis, as well as delay the chance to try to get pregnant again, so many chose to end the pregnancy immediately.

But, apparently, some pharmacists want to veto that choice.

In Arizona a Walgreens employee is under investigation for refusing to fill a misoprostal prescription for a woman who was using it for miscarriage management, citing his “his ethical beliefs” that a woman who is pregnant shouldn’t be allowed to take the drug. Despite 35-year-old Nicole Arteaga explaining that the medication was necessary to remove an undeveloped fetus that would not ever result in a live pregnancy, pharmacist Brian Hreniuc blocked her from immediately receiving the medication and caused a delay because she had to go to a different store to obtain it.

At this point, Walgreens  is trying to stand behind its employee, claiming he has the right to refuse to fill any prescription that he morally objects to.

According to the New York Times, the company stated the following:

To respect the sincerely held beliefs of our pharmacists while at the same time meeting the needs of our patients, our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection.

And it’s true that so-called “conscience clauses” have been in place for years, allowing pharmacists to “step away” from allegedly “sinful” medications like hormonal contraception so they don’t feel that they are complicit in “immoral” activities.

But religious objections are supposed to be a balance between a patient’s right to the medical care they need and the moral position of the provider. A pharmacist can hand off a prescription, but cannot act as a wall between a patient and the medication they and their doctor agrees is necessary. That’s where the pharmacist went wrong –  and it’s by no means the first time this has happened.

One notable case occurred in 2011, when an Idaho pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for methergine — a medication meant to stop excessive bleeding after childbirth or abortion. Because the prescription was issued by a Planned Parenthood, the pharmacist refused to fill it, assuming that the patient had just had an abortion.

As I wrote back then, the patient in question eventually was able to get the prescription filled somewhere else, but the delay meant endangering her health with ongoing bleeding as she waited. A pharmacist was literally arguing that a person who had an abortion really deserves to bleed to death as a consequence — and the medical board called the action inconsequential since eventually she was helped before that happened.

Assuming that Arteaga wasn’t in danger of infection, her situation wasn’t as physically dire as that of the woman in Idaho –  but that doesn’t discount the extreme emotional cost that accompanied the delay of her medication, one I still remember vividly from my own missed miscarriage. In the days following the diagnosis, I felt trapped in a physical limbo — one where your body continues all of the symptoms and trials of a healthy pregnancy even while there is no life growing inside of you at all. One where every moment is an agony, where your body has betrayed you, and there is death inside you that no one will help you remove.

And a pharmacist believed that it was his personal right to force Arteaga to continue to suffer — all in the name of protecting a “baby” that could never, ever be born.

The Trump White House has made “protecting religious freedom” a cornerstone of its administration, and the far right will use it to get every advantage they can. Just as conservatives are now pushing against “rape exceptions” in abortion bans — claiming that people will pretend they were raped just to access a termination — they’ll likely refuse to refill every misoprostal prescription out of fear that patients and doctors are using the medication for clandestine, off-the-record abortions.

And if women who really are miscarrying get hurt in the process? Well, they think it’s all worth it to save a fetus.

Take Action!

Stand with Nicole Arteaga, and sign this Care2 petition asking six states to repeal their pharmacist conscious laws.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Paula A
Paula A7 months ago

Signed. Thanks.

Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ
Sonia M7 months ago

S&N;thanks for sharing

Kelsey S
Kelsey S7 months ago

Petition signed.

Belinda Lang
Belinda Lang7 months ago

Pharmacists should be required to fill any legal and valid prescription for a patient. The only exception should be a prescription that is detrimental to the health of the patient, such as a drug interaction. The patient's healthcare and well-being should come before any healthcare provider's moral beliefs. Any healthcare provider that does not put the patient first is UNWORTHY to be in the healthcare field.

Elaine W
Elaine W7 months ago

Dr. should be informed to send prescriptions to a different pharmacy and a list of those not approved by Walgreens should be available to customers such as birth control and such. If privacy is violated, I think Walgreens would risk being sued.

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill7 months ago

judgment is the enemy of compassion

Richard A
Richard A7 months ago

Pharmacists were raised to this level with the onset of programs that tie doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies together in order to track prescriptions.

Mike A.
.7 months ago

Interesting that gay businesses have refused business of straight people, but that doesn't make the news

Cindy S
Cindy Smith7 months ago

he should be fired. what a tool