Illinois appeals court rules pharmacists can refuse to dispense birth control drugs

[JURIST] The Appellate Court of Illinois [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Thursday that the state cannot force pharmacists to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives if they have religious objections to these drugs. The appeals court held that an Illinois law known as the Current Rule [text], which requires pharmacists to dispense contraceptives including Plan B [product website], violates pharmacists' rights under the state's Conscience Act [text] as well as the free exercise clause of the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. In its decision, the appeals court upheld a lower court ruling declaring that the Current Rule unlawfully infringes on the rights of pharmacists who have religious objections to abortion and contraception:

The Conscience Act does not prohibit governmental action that may ultimately force health-care personnel or health-care facilities to make a conscientious decision based on their beliefs not to comply with that governmental action ... The Current Rule does not violate the Conscience Act; its enforcement against plaintiffs on the issue of emergency contraceptives does.
It is unclear whether Illinois plans to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court [official website].

Plan B [JURIST news archive] has been the subject of considerable legislative and judicial activity since the FDA approved nonprescription access to the drug in 2006. In February a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that a Washington law requiring pharmacists to dispense Plan B violated pharmacists' freedom of religion rights. In December a federal judge in New York revived a lawsuit [JURIST report] that claimed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] must make Plan B available to 17-year-olds without a prescription and reconsider whether the contraceptive should be available over the counter (OTC) to women under the age of 17. That ruling came just days after Department of Health and Human Services [official website] Director Kathleen Sebelius blocked an FDA recommendation [press release] to make Plan B available OTC to women under 17. Sebelius' decision, based on concerns for the lack of data on the effects for young women, was backed by US President Barack Obama. Also in December, a group of 15 US Senators wrote to Sebelius [text] expressing disappointment and seeking the specific rationale and data that went into the decision.

 

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