CHICAGO, April 12, 2005 ( – The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has warned pharmacists in the state to dispense the abortifacient morning-after pill or face legal backlash – despite a state statute that exempts pharmacists from participating in practices contrary to their religious views.

The face-off between pharmacists and the governor began after a Loop Osco pharmacist denied two women the Plan B abortifacient morning-after pill. Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act states that health care professionals are not obliged to act contrary to their conscience.

On April 1, Gov. Blagojevich issued an emergency order that all pharmacists dispense the abortifacient. The emergency rule is in effect for 150 days, after which time it is expected to be made permanent.

The governor attended a memorial Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II April 3, where Bishop Thomas Paprocki appealed to the governor to cancel his directive. “Mr. Governor, out of respect for John Paul II, please respect his wishes,” Bishop Paprocki said in his homily. “Please rescind your order. Let our pharmacists be free to follow their faith.” After the Mass, Gov. Blagojevich, while shaking the bishop’s hand, said, “I understand, I understand,” according to an Illinois Right to Life Committee news release. The anti-life order has remained.

Illinois Pharmacists Association Executive Director Michael Patton, in a letter to the governor April 5, argued that the governor’s order “requires pharmacists and pharmacy operators to comply with one specific set of beliefs.” He added that forcing pharmacists to act against their deeply-held religious beliefs “is a recipe for disaster.”

Ron Stephens, a state Representative and a pharmacist, vowed, “I will not abide by it,” according to a Chicago Sun Times report.

Paul Caprio, Director of Family-PAC (political action committee), an Illinois pro-family organization, called upon Illinois pharmacists to continue to exercise their “right of conscience” under existing Illinois law. Caprio said his group would defend any charges against pharmacists in court.

Blagojevich responded to Caprio’s recommendation, writing, “In your call to pharmacists urging them to violate the emergency rule I issued, you neglected to remind them of the penalties their employers will face if they deny a woman her right to health care,” which could include fines or a loss of license.