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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 04:51 am

Pharmacists win abortion drug spat in court

Pharmacists can’t be fined for refusing to dispense an abortion drug for religious reasons under a court ruling released Friday. It’s a win for groups concerned with freedom of religion, but a defeat for abortion rights groups.

The Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court last week found that an executive order issued in 2005 by former governor Rod Blagojevich can’t be enforced to make pharmacists fill prescriptions for an emergency contraceptive known as the “morning after pill.” Blagojevich’s order applied to all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though it was aimed at the contraceptive pill. Two pharmacists filed a lawsuit against the state in 2005, after Blagojevich threatened that pharmacists who didn’t comply could be fined or lose their professional licenses.

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz found the so-called “Current Rule” unconstitutional in 2011, saying it also violated two additional laws. Belz previously issued an  injunction barring the state from enforcing the rule, meaning it hasn’t been enforced in the meantime.

The three-justice appellate panel unanimously found that Belz’s injunction was too broad, preventing the state from enforcing the rule with regard to other FDA-approved drugs. Still, the appellate court upheld the injunction, saying Blagojevich’s rule violated the state Conscience Act, which bars civil lawsuits or criminal charges against health service providers who refuse to administer a service based on moral beliefs.

The net result is that pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill if they believe it violates their religious beliefs. Under the rule, pharmacists were supposed to refer such customers to other pharmacies that would fill the order. It remains to be seen whether that will continue, and whether the state will appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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