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 Change.org about the original case explains:
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“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