Idaho Pharmacy Board Gives a Pass to Pharmacist Who Refused to Fill Prescription

The Idaho Board of Pharmacy has ruled that the Walgreens pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for Methergine – a medication that halts uterine bleeding – will not be disciplined for her actions. The prescription was called in by a nurse practitioner with a local Planned Parenthood. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that “the board had concluded its investigation into the incident and found no violations of state laws the board is tasked with enforcing.”

According to initial reporting about the story, the pharmacist “suspected” the Methergine prescription may have been called in on behalf of a woman who had undergone an abortion. She asked the nurse practitioner for what reason she was prescribing the medication, and when the nurse practitioner told the pharmacist providing that information would violate patient confidentiality, the pharmacist not only refused to fill the prescription – but refused to refer the nurse practioner to another pharmacy.

“The board basically told us that according to Idaho law, there is no duty to dispense any drug,”  Kristen Glundberg-Prossor, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, told Boise Weekly’s Citydesk. “In essence, they told us no harm, no foul…What that means is that any pharmacist can refuse to fill any prescription at any time for any reason.”

Roxann MtJoy writing on about the original case explains:

“The pharmacist invoked the state’s new so-called conscience clause that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, among other things, if they have a personal problem with it.”

The disconnect, in this case, comes from the fact that two separate policies are being invoked. The Idaho Pharmacy Act allows for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription – for any reason essentially. The State Board is tasked with overseeing enforcement of this law. However, according to the American Pharmacists Association’s code of ethics, while pharmacists have the right to “exercise conscientious refusal,” patients also have the right to access legally-prescribed medication. The organization notes that:

“When this policy is implemented correctly, and proactively, it is seamless to the patient, and the patient is not aware that the pharmacist is stepping away from the situation. In sum, the APhA supports the ability of the pharmacist to step away, not in the way, and supports the establishment of an alternative system for delivery of patient care.”

The Conscience Clause, put into law last year in Idaho, specifically allows for pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for abortifacient medication or emergency contraception, among other medications. However, Methergin does not fall into either of these categories. It does not cause an abortion, nor is it contraceptive. The law also clearly states that in life-threatening situations a healthcare professional must provide care until an alternative is found.

If a health care professional invokes a conscience right in a lifethreatening situation where no other health care professional capable of treating the emergency is available, such health care professional shall provide treatment and care until an alternate health care professional capable of treating the emergency is found.

Still, as Idaho’s State Board of Pharmacy Executive Director, Mark Johnston notes, the conscience clause is not under the Board’s domain. This won’t stop Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest, however, from taking action.

Glundberg-Prosser told the Idaho Press-Tribune that they’d press for changes to or a repeal of the state’s conscience law.

H/T to the National Partnership for Women & Families Daily Women’s Health Policy Report

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  • kate-ranieri

    Invoke your conscience clause. Boycott Walgreens. Share with everyone how Walgreeens treats women. 

  • therealistmom

    When the story first broke I moved my remaining prescriptions from there to another pharmacy. I already was limiting using my local Walgreens due to labor disbutes, but this seals it. I know one person’s prescriptions and a few odds and ends won’t make a difference- but at least I know I am not actively supporting this kind of heinous discrimniation towards women.

  • saltyc

    I haven’t been using them either, but is it their fault? I mean with the so-called “conscience” law, do pharmacies have a choice? Do other pharmacies do a better job of serving patients by always having a reasonable person serving alongside an asshole who asserts their right to be an anti-woman asshole? I’d like to know, there should be a forum somewhere where people tell their stories of pharmacy refusal to see if corporate patterns emerge.

  • quiet-professional

    Surely in a pluralistic nation such as ours, we can make room — at least a little, teeny, tiny room — for people to exercise their freedom of conscience?

  • ldan

    I hardly think that not filling a prescription *and* refusing to send it elsewhere constitutes a teeny, tiny room. I’d call it a gross breach of trust and privacy. Or possibly ‘holding my prescription hostage for your morals’. 


    Freedom of conscience does not give a pharmacist the right to make guesses about why someone is getting a prescription and then refusing to provide it unless they satisfy the pharmacist’s demands for information.


    This pharmacist took that teeny room and used it as a bludgeon to intrude on someone’s privacy, attempt to make decisions about what prescriptions they could and couldn’t have based upon their past actions, and then hold the prescription hostage. Are pharmacists justified in finding out why one is being prescribed painkillers and withholding it if the pain/injury/etc. was sustained doing something they feel all moral about?

  • crowepps

    As I understand the standard of ethics of professional pharmacists, while any individual pharmacist absolutely has a right to not participate in anything which they personally find immoral, there should never be any occasion when either the health provider or the patient herself would know that occurred.  The professional pharmacist would simply step back and let another pharmacist handle that patient.  While pleading for a little teeny, tiny room for individual conscience sounds very reasonable, the problem is that in this particular case the pharmacist used the phone in that room to call the clinic and make it clear she was suspicious of the prescription because of where it was written and she wanted to make it clear she wasn’t going to provide the prescription even though it had nothing to do with causing an abortion because she SUSPECTED the person who needed it was immoral.


    I don’t have a problem with “freedom of conscience”.  I have a big problem with “no prescription for SLUTS, you deserve to bleed to death.”

  • therealistmom

    And is it only ok for xians who don’t like women getting health care?

    If you can’t perform all the duties of your job because it hurts your feelers, FIND ANOTHER CAREER.

    As an atheist, can I deny life-saving medicine to someone who was bitten by a snake while snake-handling, because I find their blind faith to be excruciatingly stupid?

    Can a Jewish paramedic refuse to save a choking victim, because they got a pork chop bone caught in their throat?

    If someone wants to exercise their “freedom of conscience” that badly, they can open their own business and explicitly state on the front doors their bigoted views. At least then nobody will be bleeding to death waiting for their prescription from this asshat.

  • quiet-professional

    It sounds like we can all agree, then, that there is some room for health care professionals to recuse themselves from abetting practices that are morally abhorrent to them, even if we might argue the particulars of this pharmacist’s actions.

  • quiet-professional

    Thus … when it comes to the principle of freedom of conscience with respect to healthcare practitioners, it’s merely a question of scope–and not of the existence of that principle.

  • quiet-professional

    “Can a Jewish paramedic refuse to save a choking victim, because they got a pork chop bone caught in their throat?”

    Can he? Yes. Should he? That’s a different question, isn’t it?

  • quiet-professional

    I agree that there’s a distinction to be made between treating a health condition, side effect, or injury arising as a consequence of an abortion, and abetting that abortion.

  • ldan

    Actually, no. Conscience clauses are generally void in emergency situations. (I haven’t studied them all, so I’m being wussy there due to not knowing for sure that someone hasn’t managed to push one through without that emergency clause)


    Anti-choice doctors are, in fact, required to perform an abortion if it would save their patient’s life and there isn’t someone else who can take on the duty. The Jewish paramedic is, in fact, required to save the life of someone choking on pork. Had the woman at Walgreens died or developed complications due to her bleeding, that pharmacist would rightly be able to be sued.


    Also, it’s worth noting, why exactly a conscience clause would even apply. Are godly pharmacists not allowed to even serve women who have had abortions? Because the medicine prescribed was not one to cause abortion in any way. So…letting someone who has had an abortion bleed out can be done in good conscience? Really?


    And people wonder why I have never regretted bailing on the church at 13 or so. Frankly, it was after being told by a pastor that yes, those people in foreign countries who had their own gods and goddesses beforehand would burn in hell if they heard the word of Jesus and turned him down. I didn’t want to give jack to a god that heartless and jealous.

  • ldan

    Scope, and privilege. What happens when you live in a small town with only one pharmacist? Should the principle of freedom of conscience mean that people have to leave town for health care?


    With the cost of gas, that can be a not-insubstantial burden to put on someone who may be scraping by to begin with, thus creating a situation where accessing some elements of health care are just a bit inconvenient if you have the means, and downright hardships if you don’t.


    Having the pharmacy turn you away in that situation is somewhat analogous to having the postal worker refuse to deliver to your house because they know you get porn magazines and don’t want to be a party to that. Except that medication is more important than porn, yet the pharmacist, not the postal worker is protected.


    So there are some problems with the principle in practice. Kind of like communism…it looks pretty good on paper, but the execution doesn’t usually work so well if you’re not a lover of human misery.

  • quiet-professional

    “Can” means “able to”. The Jewish paramedic may be required to render aid, but that doesn’t prevent him from refusing to do so. He would simply have to be prepared to face whatever legal/regulatory consequencies would ensue.

    Now — if you read my posts closely, you’ll see that I agree that the actions of the pharmacist in question here are entirely debatable. I’m not defending the pharmacist, but I am trying to establish agreement with respect to a larger principle.

    So … my view is that the issue of rendering post-operative care to a patient injured by or suffering from the side effects of an abortion is very different from that of aiding and abetting the abortion itself. It’s with respect to the latter that I think we should be able to find some common ground. Maybe not a lot. But at least a little.

  • quiet-professional

    Well … I have to say — I’ve never seen porn and medicine compared! I guess porn is a sort of opiate for some!

    As for communism, comrade, what’s wrong with it? Every communist/marxist regime I’m aware of is strongly in favor of abortion rights. Abortions are feely available. Even encouraged. And they’re free or subsidized. And, even better, there’s no such thing under communist regimes as “freedom of conscience”. That keeps those “religionists” in line.

  • colleen

    I’ve never seen porn and medicine compared!

    I’ve never seen refusing to fill a prescription for a drug that controls uterine bleeding described as ‘medicine’ or, for that matter, ‘conscience’.


  • ldan

    Oh please, as if I were comparing porn to opiates. I’m comparing the fact that both porn and abortion incite moral outrage. Interestingly, one has immediate health consequences and one does not, yet it is the one with health consequences that has allowances for people to opt out of doing their job. This doesn’t seem untoward?


    I have a lot of respect for elements of communism/Marxism. In practice, all of the instances of putting it into practice have turned totalitarian. The parts of it that filter into the elements of socialism as practiced in various parts of the industrialized world have worked better. There’s always room to improve.


    I’m really not about keeping ‘religionists’ in line so much as keeping them out of the business of dictating how everyone else should live or act. How is banning abortion not a more totalitarian act than allowing it? Those who want a theocracy can go found one somewhere else, thank you.


    Conscience clauses skirt totalitarianism when they are such that exercise of such clauses is invisible to those being affected/served. So handing a prescription off to another pharmacist such that women still get their prescriptions, balances everyone’s desires in a reasonable way. Expecting women to travel to other towns for legal medication does not; it is an abuse of power to enforce the pharmacist’s morals on other people.

  • crowepps

    A health care professional who becomes a Christian Scientist, for instance, would absolutely be entitled to continue drawing a paycheck even though he/she refused to provide any prescriptions whatsoever.  After all, the really IMPORTANT thing isn’t the people who are ill or using his/her training in accurately providing the medication they need, but instead the professional’s narcissistic focus on how important he/she is to the universe, how vital his/her moral decisions are to everyone else, his/her open display of moral superiority, and how valuable all of that unique specialness is to society justifying the employer being obligated to finance their life even though they can’t bring themselves to perform any actual work.


    If a few customers bleed out in the aisles, why would everyone assume that was THEIR problem?



  • quiet-professional

    >>How is banning abortion not a more totalitarian act than allowing it<<

    Then why is it that abortion is NOT restricted by any totalitarian regimes and is, in fact, sanctioned by such regimes to the point where it is sold as a woman’s patriotic duty? China, Cuba, North Korea--all of these totalitarian regimes not only permit abortion, but subsidize it.

    Seriously. Is this your ideal?



  • ahunt

    Actually, Sweden would be the closest to my ideal, where abortion law is fairly settled and not a national controvery.


    Seems to me you are looking for dialogue, QP. So, cutting to the chase…what is your position on reproductive rights and abortion policy?

  • arekushieru

    Actually, those are countries with Pro-Abortion policies, y’know, another anti-choice position?

    Their health care and delivery systems aren’t so great, are they?

    I prefer a country with a mix of both Canadian and Swedish (I love having a – perhaps tenuous – connection to both of them, at the same time, too) cultural norms regarding abortion.  No lawful restrictions.  And general acceptance surrounding the issue of abortion.  

  • xena22

    I have read about a pharmasist who refused to fill a prescription for a cancer drug.  Some pharmasists refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills too. Pharmasists refuse to fill all manner of prescriptions because of their ‘concious’. If a pharmasist can’t or won’t do their job, they are in the WRONG profession. Thay also need to be fired.


    What about store clerks who don’t believe in cigarettes, candy bars, processed foods, meat of any kind, and still have to sell them? don’t they have a concious also?

     Idaho is a republican state. It is a state I am positive voted for bush both times without any question or fraud.