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Walgreens sued over refusal to fill prescription

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Walgreens is accused of violating the state Human Rights Act after a store pharmacist refused to provide medication prescribed to a teen in preparation for a birth control insertion procedure, according to a lawsuit.

Citing his “personal beliefs,” a pharmacist at the drugstore chain’s store at Coors and Montaño told the teen’s mother that he would not provide the in-stock medication and that she would have to go to another store, the lawsuit filed in state District Court earlier this month alleges.

The medication at issue, Misoprostol, has several gynecological uses. It can be used to prepare the cervix for IUD insertion (as in this case), to induce labor, and to terminate an early pregnancy, according to the lawsuit. But it is also regularly prescribed to men and women to help reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.

“Had (she) been a man with a valid prescription for the same medication, the prescription would have been filled. …” the suit alleges. It argues that forcing a woman to seek an alternate pharmacy for validly prescribed and in-stock reproductive health medication imposes an unlawful discriminatory burden on the basis of sex.

“Access to these medications enable women to make decisions that affect their health, family, education and employment,” said Erin Armstrong, one attorney for the plaintiffs. “It is imperative that they are able to access this care without experiencing shame, stigma, or discrimination.”

Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreens, said in a statement that company policy allows pharmacists to “step away from completing a transaction to which they may have a moral objection.” When that happens, he said, the customer should be referred to another employee who can “meet the customer’s needs.”

New Mexico law, he said, supports that store policy and gives health care providers the right to make decisions based on their personal beliefs.

“As an employer, we strive to balance supporting our pharmacists’ rights with meeting our patients’ need,” Cohn said.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages and are asking the court to require Walgreens to change its policy to ensure that women customers will have their prescriptions filled “without experiencing discrimination.”

The teen and her mother, who are not named in the lawsuit, are represented by four attorneys, including one from the American Civil Liberties Union and one from the Southwest Women’s Law Center.

In 2012, an Albuquerque woman said she had a similar experience in which a Walgreens pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for birth control pills. She was forced to fill the prescription at another location. In response to those allegations, a spokesman said at that time that store policy requires a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription to arrange to have it filled at a nearby location or at a time when another pharmacist is available.

Months later, the ACLU announced that Walgreens agreed to take steps to ensure that women receive appropriate care regardless of the individual beliefs of its employees. Walgreens also said it conducted follow-up training with employees on corporate policies.

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