Illinois pharmacists that Americans United for Life (AUL) and AUL Advisory Board Member Mark Rienzi have worked with for more than 7 years won an important victory last week, in a ruling that helps to protect conscience rights.
The Appellate Court of Illinois for the Fourth District ruled that the state cannot force two pharmacists and several pharmacies to dispense life-ending drugs misleadingly labeled as “emergency contraception,” coercing them to act against their consciences.
The case, Morr-Fitz v. Quinn, has been working through the Illinois court system since 2005, when then-Governor Blagojevich first issued a rule (“Rule”) that would force pharmacies to dispense life-ending drugs. The plaintiffs—pharmacists Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog, along with their pharmacy corporations—filed suit against the State to defend their rights of conscience.
In 2011, a state trial court ruled that the Rule violated freedom of conscience guarantees of several laws, including the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (“Conscience Act”). The State appealed.
On Friday, the appellate court concluded that enforcing the rule against the Plaintiffs would violate the Conscience Act. In reaching this conclusion, the court made two significant findings.
First, the court concluded that pharmacists and pharmacies fall under the protection of the Conscience Act. The state had argued to the contrary, in an attempt to deny conscience protections to pharmacists and pharmacies. This means that other pharmacists and pharmacies—faced with the coercive choice of violating their conscience or the Rule—can file suit with a great likelihood of success.
It also demonstrates the importance of conscience provisions and what state legislatures can do to protect conscience rights through state law.
Second, the court concluded that the provision of “emergency contraception” does not constitute “emergency medical care” under the auspices of the Conscience Act. The State had argued that another provision in the Conscience Act, which requires healthcare personnel to provide emergency medical care, trumps a pharmacist’s objection to “emergency contraception.” But the appellate court decidedly rejected this claim. Noting first that the Illinois Supreme Court had recently defined “emergency” as “an unforeseen circumstance involving imminent danger to a person or property requiring an urgent response,” the appellate court concluded that “’emergency contraceptives’ do not fall within the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘emergency.’” Moreover, the court went on to state, “unprotected sex does not place a woman in imminent danger requiring an urgent response.”
This particular holding rebuffs everything proponents of “emergency contraception” want the general public (and the courts) to believe: that use of such “contraception” constitutes an “emergency,” that pregnancy constitutes a “danger,” and that we must force pharmacists to provide it at the cost of religious freedom.
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As such, it is a win not just for pharmacists in Illinois, but for the pro-life movement as it seeks to educate the general public on the reality of life-ending drugs. It also gives further hope to Americans as they see assaults on religious freedom defeated in court.
AUL first represented the Plaintiffs in filing the case. More recently, AUL filed three amicus briefs in the various courts (including the Illinois Supreme Court) on behalf of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Catholic Medical Association, and other national medical organizations in support of the Plaintiffs.