Illinois Pharmacists Win Key Victory on Morning After Pill

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 5, 2011   |   7:00PM   |   Washington, DC

The American Center for Law and Justice today secured a sweeping victory for pro-life pharmacy owners in Illinois after a legal battle lasting six years.

A state court in Illinois issued a decision striking down a state law that compels pharmacy owners to dispense Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, even if doing so violates their religious or moral beliefs.

In August 2009, a state judge granted the ACLJ’s request for a preliminary injunction in the case of two pharmacy owners, Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog in the case of  Morr-Fitz, Inc. v. Blagojevich. The case went to trial in March 2010 and a decision today by Judge John W. Belz of the circuit court sitting in Springfield declared that the state law violates the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Francis Manion is Senior Counsel for the ACLJ and served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

“Today’s decision is a major victory for the rights of conscience,” Manion told LifeNews. “After six long years of litigation, our clients have finally prevailed against a state government determined to coerce them and all pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods.  Judge Belz’s decision makes clear that both Illinois state law and the First Amendment will not permit this. This country was founded by people with a strong commitment to religious freedom. That’s why freedom of religion is the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights. For government at any level to try to run roughshod over that freedom is to abdicate the government’s primary responsibility.”

Mark Rienzi of Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law served as co-counsel in the case.

He commented: “Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog are competent and caring professionals who have been diligently serving the public for decades,” Rienzi said. “They happen to have a religious objection to one discreet kind of drugs — drugs that they believe interfere with human life at its earliest stages. In a pluralistic society that honors diversity there ought to be room for people like our clients to practice their professions without the threat of government sanctions. It’s significant that the court in this case found that Illinois officials produced no evidence whatsoever of anyone ever being unable to obtain the drugs at issue and that there is no realistic threat of danger to anyone’s health posed by allowing objecting pharmacists to step out of the way. The state’s arguments to the contrary simply did not hold up to scrutiny.”
In his ruling, Judge Belz noted that “The government asserts that this Rule serves a compelling interest in timely access to drugs. Yet the government concedes that it had never done anything to advance its asserted interest prior to April 2010. Even as to emergency contraception, the Court heard no evidence of a single person who ever was unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection.”

Officials with Americans United for Life also commented on the legal victory.

“There is a widespread attack on conscience in America,” said AUL president Charmaine Yoest. “But today an Illinois court ruled that the state cannot target pharmacists simply because of their religious beliefs.”

The complaint alleged that then Gov. Rod Blagojevich violated the conscience rights of pharmacists and pharmacies by requiring them to dispense “emergency contraception” against their religious convictions. As the case has proceeded, AUL’s involvement included two amicus curiae briefs on behalf of national medical organizations in support of the plaintiffs and the conscience rights of all health care providers in the state of Illinois.

In today’s ruling, the court found that the rule was improperly aimed only at pharmacists and pharmacies holding religious convictions. While proponents of the draconian rule claim it is necessary in order to ensure availability of “emergency contraception,” the court noted that not a single person has ever been unable to obtain “emergency contraception” because of a pharmacist’s religious objection.

Yoest commended the state court: “For six years, pharmacists and pharmacies have been bullied by the state of Illinois into choosing between violating their religious beliefs or violating the law. We applaud the Illinois circuit court for permanently striking this unconstitutional rule.”