An Arizona pharmacist’s refusal to fill a prescription for an abortion-inducing drug is casting renewed attention on so-called “conscience clauses.” The patient, Nicole Arteaga, had obtained a prescription for misoprostol to terminate a non-viable pregnancy. She wrote in a Facebook post that when she went to her local Walgreens to fill the prescription last Thursday, the pharmacist who waited on her asked her if she was pregnant, then refused to fill the prescription for her after she answered in the affirmative.
“I stood at the mercy of this pharmacist explaining my situation in front of my 7-year-old, and five customers standing behind only to be denied because of his ethical beliefs,” she wrote, adding, “I left Walgreens in tears, ashamed and feeling humiliated by a man who knows nothing of my struggles but feels it is his right to deny medication prescribed to me by my doctor.”
Representatives for Walgreens tweeted that the chain allows pharmacists to refuse to fill certain prescriptions as a matter of conscience, though they are required to refer patients to another pharmacist who will fill the prescription instead. According to Arteaga, this didn’t happen; the chain is investigating her claim.
Unfortunately, it’s mostly legal for Walgreens pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions, as long as they make a referral. But as Arteaga’s story demonstrates, conscience clauses can place a heavy burden on patients, who experience humiliation and inconvenience when a pharmacist refuses to fill a legal prescription.