Pharmacist who refused woman morning after pill did not discriminate, jury rules
A mother and foster parent from McGregor, Minnesota, sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act in 2019 after a pharmacist said he couldn’t fill her prescription for the “morning after" pill Ella because of his religious beliefs. However, the jury found the longtime pharmacist liable for $25,000 in emotional damages. Legal advocacy nonprofit Gender Justice said it will file for an appeal in the case.
AITKIN, Minn. — An Aitkin County jury on Friday, Aug. 5, ruled a pharmacist did not discriminate against a central Minnesota woman when he declined to fill her prescription for emergency contraceptives. However, they found the longtime pharmacist liable for $25,000 in emotional damages.
Andrea Anderson, a mother and foster parent from McGregor, Minnesota, sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act in 2019 after a pharmacist at the only pharmacy in the community said he couldn’t fill her prescription for the “morning after" pill Ella because of his religious beliefs.
After nine hours of deliberation, the seven jurors found pharmacist George Badeaux did not discriminate against Anderson under Minnesota law. The verdict comes amid national political debate about contraception under federal law amid concerns the U.S. Supreme Court could limit the use of contraception after ending federal abortion rights protections.
Legal advocacy nonprofit Gender Justice, who represented Anderson, said it will file for an appeal. Anderson in a statement said she couldn’t help but wonder what the verdict might mean for other women who may be turned away for emergency contraceptives.
“What if they accept the pharmacist’s decision and don’t realize that this behavior is wrong? What if they have no other choice?" Anderson said. "Not everyone has the means or ability to drive hundreds of miles to get a prescription filled. I can only hope that by coming forward and pursuing justice that others don’t have to jump the ridiculous hurdles I did.”
After Badeaux declined to fill her prescription, Anderson tried to obtain the drug at a CVS pharmacy 20 miles away in Aitkin, where another pharmacist also said she could not fill the prescription, according to the lawsuit. CVS and the pharmacist were named in the initial complaint, but the company and Anderson settled out of court before trial.
After being declined by the Aitkin pharmacy, Anderson had to make a 100-mile round trip to Brainerd during a January snowstorm to obtain emergency contraceptives, according to court documents. She spent more than three hours on the road in winter conditions with her then-2-year-old child. After her experience, Anderson said she could no longer trust McGregor Pharmacy and now fills her prescriptions in Aitkin and Brainerd, significantly increasing how far she must travel to get medication, according to her lawsuit.
Badeaux said he was able to turn down emergency contraceptives to Anderson under a 1999 rule from the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy which allows pharmacists to deny drugs so long as they are able to provide an alternative — Anderson testified he did help find an alternative.
In a statement, Badeaux's attorney Charles Shreffler said he and his client were "incredibly happy" with the verdict.
"Medical professionals should be free to practice their profession in line with their beliefs. Mr. Badeaux is unable to participate in any procedure that requires him to dispense drugs that have the potential to end innocent life in the womb," Shreffler said. "Every American should be free to operate according to their ethical and religious beliefs."
The drug Ella is thought to work by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary, but it is possible the drug could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Emergency contraceptives such as Ella and Plan B are not considered abortion drugs by the FDA, and Badeaux’s defense was not allowed to use terms such as "abortion" during the trial.
Badeaux testified at trial that he believes life begins at conception and he objects to the drug Ella as it can prevent implantation. In a deposition, he said he had refused to provide emergency contraceptives on three other occasions.
Judge David F. Hermerding presided over the case. Jurors were asked to examine whether the pharmacist and business violated state human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and includes protections for pregnancy, childbirth and other related conditions.
While Badeaux said he declined to fill Anderson’s prescription for religious reasons, he was not permitted to present a religious freedom argument and frame his defense in terms of constitutional rights, according to court documents filed ahead of the trial.
Hermerding wrote that the trial’s focus had to remain on whether Badeaux discriminated against Anderson based on sex.