In another setback for reproductive rights, an Illinois judge ruled yesterday that pharmacists can't be forced to dispense emergency contraception. While selling the morning after pill would prevent pregnancies, and thus abortions, some pharmacists are refusing to dispense it for religious reasons.

State lawmakers and pharmacists have been arguing over the issue for nearly six years, according to the Associated Press. In 2005, before Governor Rod Blagojevich became a national punchline, he ordered pharmacies to fill prescriptions for the morning after pill, despite their moral objections (the pill is now available over the counter to anyone over 17). At the time, the New York Times reported that he did this after hearing that at least four women had been turned away at pharmacies.

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Pharmacists Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog, who own three drug stores, filed a suit over the rule. The claim was originally dismissed by a circuit court, but later the state Supreme Court ruled that a court had to hear the case. Yesterday Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled that forcing pharmacists to provide emergency contraception violates the First Amendment and the state's right of conscience law.

The plaintiff's lawyer responded:

After six long years of litigation, our clients have finally prevailed against a state government determined to coerce them and pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods.

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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she'll appeal the decision, so the fight still isn't over. Judge Belz noted in his decision that "the court heard no evidence of a single person who ever was unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection." Since several women have filed complaints after being refused emergency contraception, it's unclear if this information simply wasn't presented in the case, or if he means they were eventually able to obtain the pills after hunting for a pharmacy during the short time they had to take the medication.

Ill. Judge Tosses Rule On 'Morning-After' Pill [AP]
Pharmacies Balk On After-Sex Pill And Widen Fight In Many States [NYT]

Image via Diego Cervo/Shutterstock.