Ill. judge: Pharmacists don’t have to dispense ‘morning-after’ pill

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois pharmacists can't be forced to dispense emergency contraception, a judge ruled yesterday.

After a nearly six-year struggle, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz said requiring pharmacists to sell the so-called morning-after pill violates state right-of-conscience law and the First Amendment.

The argument is not over. The ruling promises to lead to an appeal and likely a protracted battle.

Pharmacists Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog and the three drug stores they operate sued over the 2005 rule imposed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A circuit court originally dismissed the claim, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that a court must hear it.

Francis Manion, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the plaintiffs' attorney, called the decision “a major victory for the rights of conscience.”

“After six long years of litigation, our clients have finally prevailed against a state government determined to coerce them and pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods,” Manion said in a prepared statement.

“Plan B” emergency contraception contains a high dose of birth control pills and can be used to prevent pregnancy if taken within three days of unprotected sex by blocking ovulation or fertilization. Critics of the contraceptive say it is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The pharmacists object to dispensing the pill on religious grounds.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan planned to appeal.

“There is a compelling need for emergency contraceptives to be available at all licensed pharmacies in Illinois,” said Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer.

Belz noted in his ruling that “the court heard no evidence of a single person who ever was unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection.”

Pam Sutherland of Illinois Planned Parenthood says some women have been “demeaned” and shouted at when they were refused access to the contraception. She says she looks forward to a fuller discussion of the issues behind the rule in an appellate court hearing.