Illinois Court Rules Pharmacists May Reject Plan B

By Peter J. Smith

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, August 3, 2007 ( - Illinois pharmacists are not obligated to violate their consciences and dispense Plan-B and "emergency contraceptives" according to this week’s ruling by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott ruled Tuesday that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s executive order in April 2005 requiring pharmacies "without delay" to provide Plan-B and other abortifacient "emergency contraceptives" mandated store owners to provide it, but did not mean that pharmacists themselves had to violate their conscience and religious beliefs by dispensing it.

Scott’s decision means that a discrimination lawsuit by pharmacist Ethan Vandersand can proceed against retail giant Wal-Mart, which contended it had a legal obligation to punish incompliant pharmacists under the executive order. Wal-Mart asked for a dismissal of the case Ethan Vandersand v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. on the basis that Illinois conscience legislation did not apply to pharmacists or exempt them from dispensing drugs that conflict with their religious views.

  Wal-Mart placed Vandersand on unpaid leave after the pharmacist declined to dispense Plan B at the Beardstown Wal-Mart pharmacy to a Planned Parenthood nurse seeking the drug on behalf of a female patient in February 2006.

  Justice Scott ruled in favor of Vandersand and his attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who claimed Vandersand was legally protected from discipline by the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and Title VII, which requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs. "The statute prohibits discrimination against any person for refusing to provide health care because of his conscience," Scott said, adding that providing medication "constitutes health-care services."

"Any person, including Vandersand, who refuses to participate in any way in providing medication because of his conscience is protected by the Right of Conscience Act," the US district judge ruled.

Scott’s ruling means that Vandersand may proceed with his case against Wal-Mart under both the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and Title VII. Vandersand is seeking lost pay and unspecified monetary damages against Wal-Mart.

Scott’s ruling leaves in place Gov. Blagovich’s executive order that pharmacies provide "emergency contraception", however it clarifies that pharmacy owners, not pharmacists have to comply with carrying out the law, and the latter are not obliged to violate their consciences.

The ruling validates the objections of the more than a dozen Illinois pharmacists who have been fired or suspended for refusing to dispense the drugs on religious or ethical grounds by employers intent on complying with the executive order.

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