Arizona pharmacist under investigation after declining to fill abortion drug

Walgreens Credit Mike Mozart via Flickr CC BY 2 Walgreens. | Mike Mozart via Flickr CC BY 2.0

An Arizona pharmacist is under investigation after refusing to fill a medical abortion prescription, citing ethical objections.

The case involves a 35-year-old woman named Nicole Arteaga, who was told by her doctor at nine weeks pregnant that she had an unviable pregnancy and would ultimately miscarry. She was prescribed a drug called misoprostol, which would induce a medical abortion. 

When Arteaga went to fill the prescription at the local Walgreens, the pharmacist told her that he was ethically opposed to filling the drug and asked if he could transfer her prescription. Arteaga wrote about her experience on Facebook, in a post which was shared more than 36,000 times. 

According to the National Women's Law Center, Arizona is one of six states in the U.S. that makes allowances for pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions based on moral or ethical objections. 

Walgreens also upholds a policy saying its pharmacists are allowed to refrain from filling drugs to which they have moral objections.

"To meet the health care needs of our patients while respecting the sincerely held beliefs of our pharmacists, our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection," read a June 25 statement released by Walgreens.

"It's important to note in that situation, the pharmacist also is required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient's needs in a timely manner," the statement continued, adding "we are looking into this incident."

The Associated Press reported that the pharmacist in question was the only one on duty at the time, so he transferred her prescription over to another pharmacy. 

Arteaga was able to get the abortive drug elsewhere, but the Arizona State Board Pharmacy said it would be investigating the situation. Once the investigation is presented to the board, they will either dismiss the case or seek further action, according to the Associated Press. 

The Arizona case is not the first time pharmacists' conscientious objection rights have been in the headlines. In 2007, a Christian family-run pharmacy filed a lawsuit against the state of Washington, which was requiring pharmacies to distribute abortion-inducing drugs, saying the enforcement violated their religious freedom rights. 

"We believe that life is precious and sacred – and that it begins at conception. We want to promote life and true health, not death or anything that goes against our religious beliefs," said Greg Stormans, one of the Christian pharmacists who fought against the Washington law.

"We never thought that we would have to choose between living our faith and our family business – or that we would be embroiled in a legal battle. It is unfortunate, but the commission left us no choice," Stormans had told EWTN News in a previous interview. 

A federal appeals court ultimately ruled against the pharmacists in 2015, in a decision that Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, called "unfortunate."

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