Pharmacists in Illinois have won a final victory in a seven-year legal battle in which they have fought for the right not to have to dispense the Plan B drug, which may cause abortions in some instances.
After more than seven years of litigation, an Illinois appellate court agreed in September that the state cannot force them to sell abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their religious views. The court ruled former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s April 2005 mandate that all pharmacies and pharmacists sell Plan B (the “morning after pill”) is invalid. Blagojevich argued that pharmacy owners and pharmacists with religious objections should “find another profession” if they did not share his moral views about the drug.
Now, the Illinois Attorney General has decided not to file an appeal in Morr-Fitz vs. Quinn — meaning that Illinois pharmacists finally cannot be forced to dispense life-ending drugs against their Rights of Conscience. Those rights are protected under the Illinois Health Care Rights of Conscience Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the U.S. Constitution.
Attorneys from Americans United for Life, and other pro-life legal groups, have been working to help various pharmacists who were a part yo legal challenges to the order.
“This is a tremendous victory. Rights of conscience are under assault today and this case is a rebuke to those who argue that the government can violate the First Amendment Rights of Americans by forcing them to advance an anti-life agenda. This includes the abortion industry which aggressively supported the coercive mandate in Illinois and is arguing for similar measures in other states,” said Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest.
In 2005, AUL filed a lawsuit challenging a rule issued by then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich forcing pharmacists and pharmacies to dispense so-called “emergency contraceptives” “without delay.” At that point, then-Director of AUL’s Center for Rights of Conscience Ed Martin was lead counsel in the case along with AUL Staff Counsel Mailee Smith. When the suit was filed, Martin noted:
“Luke Vander Bleek is suing to protect his rights as an American — his right to build a business, contribute to society as a health care professional, and to live according to his principles. The Governor is trampling the rights of health care professionals and small business owners through his emergency rule.”
AUL Advisory Board member, Mark L. Rienzi, law professor at Catholic University and Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund, took over the case in 2006.
“We are delighted with the decision,” said Rienzi. “The government should not have tried to force these pharmacists out of business for their religious objection to selling a small handful of drugs. Over seven years of litigation, there was never a shred of proof that a religious objection at a pharmacy harmed anyone. These pharmacists do a wonderful job serving their communities, and the state’s decision not to appeal lets them get back to that important work.”
Over the course of the litigation, AUL filed three amicus briefs in the case. Two were filed before the Illinois Supreme Court and argued that both federal and Illinois law protected pharmacists’ freedom of conscience, that freedom of conscience is an historic right “steeped in the history and tradition” of America, and that the post-fertilization effect of “emergency contraception” is objectionable to many pharmacists who also should be free to exercise their First Amendment Rights of Conscience.
In 2011, the trial court entered an injunction against the rule. The court found that there was no evidence that a religious objection had ever prevented anyone from getting the drugs. The court further found that the law was not neutral because it was designed to target religious objectors, and because it allowed pharmacies to refuse to sell drugs for a host of “common sense business reasons” but not for religious reasons.
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In affirming the injunction, the court of appeals noted that Illinois law “prohibits discrimination in licensing” against a person or business who cannot provide healthcare services because of a religious objection. Accordingly, the court prohibited the state from enforcing the mandate against the plaintiffs.
This victory for pharmacist conscience rights comes on the heels of the Becket Fund’s victory defending small business owners in Washington State from a similar rule in Stormans v. Selecky.
Read the opinion in the Illinois case here: