An appeals court in the state of Illinois has upheld a lower court ruling, which declared that pharmacists in the state have the right to refuse to sell abortion-inducing drugs to their clients.
The opinion, released by a three-judge panel of Justices Knecht, Steigmann and Pope, is part of a seven-year battle fought by pharmacists Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog, who stated that the current mandate conflicts with their religious beliefs.
In 2005, then Governor Rod Blagojevich required all pharmacists within the state of Illinois to dispense of abortifacient drugs, even if doing so violated their conscience. He reportedly stated that pharmacists should “find another profession” if they did not agree with the mandate.
VanderBleek and Kosirog first filed for injunctive relief in 2008, but a circuit court dismissed the case. The state Supreme Court later reversed the ruling, opining that the pharmacists had a right for their aggrievements to be heard.
Last year, the circuit court granted the injunction, stating that Blagojevich’s requirement wrongfully targeted religious groups.
“The circuit court found plaintiffs had sincere religious beliefs preventing them from dispensing emergency contraceptives. The court found the current rule unconstitutional and invalid under the Conscience Act and the Religious Freedom Act and issued a permanent injunction, enjoining defendants from enforcing the current rule,” the appellate court explained in Thursday’s ruling.
It further outlined that the defendants, Governor Pat Quinn, Secretary Fernando Grillo, Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Director Daniel Bluthardt and the members of the State Board of Pharmacy then appealed the ruling in an attempt to overturn the injunction.
In affirming the circuit court ruling in part, 4th District Court of Appeals noted that Governor Blagojevich forced pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing drugs against their will under penalty of law.
“When the Emergency Rule was promulgated, Governor Blagojevich ‘publicly warned that Illinois pharmacists who violate the rule face significant penalties, ranging from fines to the loss of professional licenses,’” the court stated. “On April 13, 2005, Governor Blagojevich issued a press release stating, ‘If a pharmacy wants to be in the business of dispensing contraceptives, then it must fill prescriptions without making moral judgments.’ ”
It also noted that VanderBleek and Kosirog held sincere religious beliefs that conflicted with this requirement.
“VanderBleek testified he was aware of emergency contraceptives. He believed his faith prevented him from participating in the sale of emergency contraception because it has the potential for terminating human life. Vander Bleek believed human life begins at conception, and the FDA-approved product literature on the Plan B products indicates such medication may prevent pregnancy after fertilization,” the ruling outlined. “Vander Bleek testified his faith prevented him from selling emergency contraception and also from permitting his stores to stock the drugs or participating in a system through which he would transfer the prescription to another store to be filled.”
“Vander Bleek testified, upon hearing Governor Blagojevich’s comments about the change in the law, he felt like he would have to choose between violating the law or his conscience,” it continued. “Vander Bleek watched an interview of Governor Blagojevich on television, when the governor said pharmacists unwilling to dispense emergency contraception should find a new job.”
In considering this information in light of Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act, the court concluded that the pharmacists were protected under the law and should not be punished for their refusal to dispense abortifacients.
“Section 5 of the Conscience Act prohibits discrimination in licensing against anyone ‘because of such person’s conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept, perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care [(i.e., medication)] services contrary to his or her conscience,’” it said. “We further find section 4 of the Conscience Act bars civil or criminal actions against plaintiffs for their refusal to dispense Plan B medication.”
“The Conscience Act protects plaintiffs’ decisions not to dispense emergency contraceptives due to their conscience beliefs,” the court then declared. “[D]efendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing the current rule against plaintiffs in a manner inconsistent with the protections of the Conscience Act.”
The pharmacists were represented jointly by The Beckett Fund and the American Center for Law and Justice.