Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois created an emergency rule on Friday that requires pharmacists to fill prescriptions of contraceptives immediately and without delay. The Governor’s action was in response to a pharmacist’s refusal to fill two prescriptions for emergency contraception (EC) on February 23, and draws attention to a problem that is becoming increasingly widespread, and what the New York Times calls “an intolerable abuse of power by pharmacists who have no business forcing their own moral or ethical views onto customers who may not share them.” The Times editorial suggests that “any pharmacists who cannot dispense medicines lawfully prescribed by a doctor should find another line of work.”
“I have a sneaking suspicion that in all likelihood, this is part of a concerted effort to deny women access to birth control. Those involved in this effort may be getting away with this in other states, but here in Illinois, we are not going to let that happen,” Gov. Blagojevich said in a statement. “The pharmacy will be expected to accept that prescription [for contraception] and fill it in the same way, and in the same period of time they would fill any other prescription. No delays. No hassles. No lecture. Just fill the prescription,” Gov. Blagojevich continued.
According to Catholics for a Free Choice, the Governor has also set up a toll-free number for women of Illinois to report incidents of pharmacist refusals to the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). State residents can also file online at www.ildpr.com. The IDFPR filed a formal complaint on Friday against the pharmacy involved in the February 23 refusal for failing to provide appropriate pharmaceutical care to a patient, and for lacking an appropriate procedure to dispense contraceptive prescriptions.
Cases of refusals to fill prescriptions—which the New York Times reports could be as high as 180 refusals in a six-month period of 2004—have occurred in at least 10 states, with some pharmacists refusing to even transfer the prescription to someone who is willing to fill it. Often these refusals are accompanied by demeaning and medically inaccurate lectures from the pharmacists. According to the National Women’s Law Center, four states currently have passed laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on religious beliefs, while legislation has been introduced in four states that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.