CHICAGO (CN) – A state court must consider a lawsuit brought by two pharmacists who claim their religious beliefs prohibit them from dispensing emergency contraception, the Illinois Supreme Court said in a 5-2 ruling. A lower court had dismissed the pharmacists’ claims and refused to hear the case.
In 2005, Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued a rule that prohibited pharmacies from refusing to issue emergency contraception to women. The plaintiffs claim they are protected by state laws that prohibit forcing health-care decisions over moral and religious objections.
The medication, also known as the morning after pill, reduces the chances of pregnancy if taken within three days after sex. The medication prevents ovulation or fertilization and interferes with implantation of a fertilized egg. Some people consider taking the medication the same as having an abortion.
Justice Robert Thomas wrote the majority opinion. Thomas wrote that Blagojevich’s public statements, such as that pharmacists with moral objections “should find another profession,” could be seen as a signal that the state would allow no exceptions to the rule, which left the plaintiffs with no other option except the courts. The case will go back to Sangamon County Circuit Court.
Justice Charles Freeman wrote the dissenting opinion. Freeman found that it is inappropriate for the court to rely on Blagojevich’s public statements. “In focusing on public statements to determine the rule’s purpose, the majority is forced to rely on questionable sources such as press releases. The majority should have looked to more appropriate sources such as the rule itself,” Freeman wrote.
The issue is central to a new HHS regulation that the Bush administration issued on Friday, Dec. 19. Here is the Courthouse News story on that federal regulation.
Bush Midnight Regulation
Given to Anti-Abortionists
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (CN) – In another last-ditch regulatory move as it leaves office, the Bush administration today will issue a regulation allowing a wide range of medical workers to refuse to offer services that violate their sense of personal morality. The regulation is viewed as a wide swipe against abortion, contraception and the dissemination of medical information, which will affect doctors, nurses, pharmacists – and patients.
The Department of Health and Human Services regulation, to be published in the Federal Register today, will take effect in 30 days. The incoming Obama administration is expected to take steps to undo it, which will be a tangled and surely heated political process.
The rule prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating against employees who refuse to take part in procedures because of their personal convictions; and it prohibits hospitals, clinics, private physicians’ offices and pharmacies from forcing their employees to partake in federally funded activities to which they object.
Civil libertarians said the rules could – and are intended to – allow health care workers to refuse to provide contraception, as well as abortion; allow health care workers to refuse to provide medical information and counseling to women who seek services; and violate multiple state laws on medical access, especially for women.