RealTime: Pharmacists in Wisconsin Get No Free Pass

Amie Newman

A Wisconsin court hands down a decision today that requires all pharmacists to act in a professionally competent manner in order to protect the public health, enhance patient autonomy, and promote women's equality, says the ACLU.

Despite the desperate attempts by a "pro-life" group in Wisconsin to falsely redefine all contraception as methods of abortion, a Wisconsin court's ruling today rose above the din.

The court today upheld the decision to discipline a pharmacist who refused to refill a prescription for birth control pills in 2002, based on the pharmacist's personal religious beliefs.

The ACLU said that "today's decision…strikes an important balance between religious liberty and women's health."

"We are pleased that the court recognized that individual pharmacists with religious objections cannot prevent women from obtaining contraception," said Sondra Goldschein, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Pharmacies should honor individual pharmacists' religious beliefs wherever possible; however, the patient's right to obtain legally prescribed medication should always come first."

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The pharmacist, Neil Noesen, did not only refuse to fill a customer's prescription for birth control pills but he also, according to a press release put out by the ACLU, interfered with the woman's efforts to fill her prescription at another pharmacy.

Laurence Dupuis, Legal Director of ACLU of Wisconsin put it simply, "There are ways to honor religious beliefs and a patient's rights; contrary to professional standards, Noesen made no effort in this case to ensure the patient's health care needs were met."

In other words, if Noesen had a problem filling prescriptions for birth control pills he not only should have made that clear to his employer off the bat but he also should have quickly transferred the prescription to a pharmacy where the woman could get it filled smoothly and with minor interruption (because, let's be clear, not filling the prescription in the first place is still an interruption).

Read more about the ACLU's position on religious refusals and reproductive rights at the pharmacy.

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin Can’t Enforce GOP’s Voter ID Law in November

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Republican lawmakers in other states, like Ohio, have turned up almost nothing during lengthy investigations into claims of voter fraud.

A federal judge in Wisconsin on Tuesday ruled that voters unable to comply with the state’s photo ID requirement be allowed to vote in November, striking a blow to conservative efforts to drive down Democratic voter turnout in the state.

Tuesday’s decision, issued by Judge Lynn Adelman, did not strike the law, but instead carved out an exception, ruling that voters who are unable to obtain an ID be permitted to sign an affidavit testifying to that inability and receive a ballot to vote. “Any voter who completes and submits an affidavit shall receive a regular ballot, even if that voter does not show acceptable photo identification,” according to Adelman’s decision. “No person may challenge the sufficiency of the reason given by the voter for failing to obtain ID.”

Conservatives in Wisconsin, including former Republican Party presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker, proposed the measure, arguing it was necessary to prevent voter fraud.

Republican lawmakers in other states, like Ohio, have turned up almost nothing during lengthy investigations into claims of voter fraud.

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“Although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who can’t obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort,” Adelman wrote. “The … affidavit option is a sensible approach that will both prevent the disenfranchisement of some voters during the pendency of this litigation and preserve Wisconsin’s interests in protecting the integrity of its elections.”

Adelman declined to apply the photo ID exception to the state’s August primary, ruling state officials would not have enough time to prepare for it.

The fight over Wisconsin’s voter ID law goes back to 2011, when attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sued, arguing the law violated both the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Adelman initially blocked the law, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and sent the case back to Adelman for another look. That left the requirement in place for Wisconsin’s presidential primary in April.

Tuesday’s ruling means those who were unable to comply with the photo ID requirement can still cast a ballot in the November 8 presidential election.

News Politics

Cruz Calls for Surveillance of ‘Muslim Neighborhoods’ in Wake of Brussels Attack

Ally Boguhn

"[D]emonizing all Muslims is a misguided and counterproductive response to the terrorist threat posed by those motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam," Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in response to Cruz’s statement.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on Brussels, presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested that as president he would “patrol and secure” U.S. Muslim communities.

“We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” Cruz said in a statement responding to terrorist attacks in Belgium’s capital city that left at least 30 dead and 230 wounded.

In response to criticism of his plan, Cruz later asserted during an interview on CNN, “That does not mean targeting Muslims. It means targeting radical Islamic terrorism.”

Cruz didn’t elaborate on how he recommends police officials distinguish between Muslims and radical Islamic terrorists, but he did say to host Anderson Cooper, “If you have a neighborhood where there’s a high level of gang activity, the way to prevent it is you increase the law enforcement presence there and you target the gang members to get them off the streets …. I’m talking about any area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism.”

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Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned Cruz’s reaction in a Tuesday statement, saying, “demonizing all Muslims is a misguided and counterproductive response to the terrorist threat posed by those motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam.”

“Ordering special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods will almost certainly create an adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the communities they have sworn to protect, making those communities more vulnerable, more frightened, and often less willing to help,” Greenblatt continued.

“Profiling people based on their religion or race is blatantly unconstitutional and violates the guarantee of religious protection and religious freedom,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) national-security project, told the Nation. “One way to look at it is to replace the word ‘Muslim’ with ‘Jewish,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘African American,’ or ‘Latino.’ What’s wrong in one context is wrong in others.”

During his appearance on CNN, Cruz cited what he deemed a “successful program” implemented under former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing New York Police Department (NYPD) officers to monitor Muslims in the city. However, as the Huffington Post reported, New York’s program was roundly unsuccessful in identifying any terrorist threats:

The GOP presidential hopeful blamed Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, for shuttering the program. According to The Associated Press, however, the department “never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation” in the six years that it eavesdropped on conversations.

Critics of profiling based on race, ethnicity, and religion say that these programs may interfere with the rights of those they target. The NYPD’s surveillance program increased stigma against Muslims, created fear among those living in targeted communities, damaged relationships between Muslims and the police, and silenced free speech, according to an American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet.

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, warned in an interview with Vox that Cruz’s plan could go even further than the NYPD’s surveillance program.

“This goes light-years beyond that. Cruz is talking about police ‘securing’—what does that mean? Does that mean checkpoints on every corner? Does that mean papers on every street?” Hooper told the publication. “To me, this sounds like an armed occupation of Muslim neighborhoods.”