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Illinois House takes up pharmacy fight

Posted by ssbg on January 2, 2006

Ideology battle shapes up over dispensing morning-after pill

By Mary Massingale                            0getty2814702planb_large.jpg

of Copley News Service

SPRINGFIELD – The turf for the next fight over the governor’s rule requiring pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill apparently will be the Illinois House of Representatives.Two members of the House – one a Republican, the other a Democrat – have filed similar legislation allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception because of their religious beliefs.

“The governor is forcing a few pharmacists to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood,” said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Mulberry Grove, who is sponsoring House Bill 4246. Stephens is a licensed pharmacist and co-owns two pharmacies.

The controversial rule has spawned both state and federal lawsuits, as well as debate on national television. Four Walgreens pharmacists have been placed on unpaid suspensions for refusing to adhere to the rule, and one Walgreens pharmacist was fired for refusing to fill a prescription for emergency contraception.

The medication, marketed as “Plan B,” essentially is a high-dosage birth-control pill that can prevent pregnancy when taken up to 72 hours after sex.

A Walgreens spokesman said company policy allows pharmacists to refuse to fill such a prescription because of religious beliefs, except when state law requires otherwise.

Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle, said he is no ideologue, but he can’t see forcing people to go against their religion. He also said the rule handed down by Gov. Rod Blagojevich needs more legislative scrutiny.

“The Legislature should have a role in enactment of a policy,” said Granberg, who is sponsoring House Bill 4230.

The legislative districts of both Granberg and Stephens are near some of the affected Walgreens.

After a Chicago pharmacist refused in April to fill a Plan B prescription, Blagojevich issued an emergency rule requiring pharmacies that sell contraceptives to dispense the morning-after pill. A bipartisan panel of 12 lawmakers upheld the rule in May, and it became permanent in August.

However, some pharmacists oppose the rule on religious grounds since they believe Plan B acts as a chemical abortion. They believe pharmacists are included in the definition of health-care personnel who are allowed to refuse to “act contrary to their conscience” in the delivery of health care, as outlined in the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

Pam Sutherland of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council said she doubts either Stephens’ or Granberg’s proposal will gain any traction in the Legislature.

“This is just one issue that is overwhelming,” Sutherland said. “No matter what people think on other issues, they want their prescriptions filled.”

And then there’s the timing factor: Both proposals are being floated during a year when every House member is up for re-election.

“The women’s vote is very powerful,” Sutherland said.


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