Last Friday’s standing-room only hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was among the most dramatic I’ve witnessed. There was outrage – outrage not just from me as I declared the State Department “AWOL” in our quest to free an American Pastor, Saeed Abedini — a U.S. citizen — captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard […]
I want to share with you an important victory in our ongoing effort to protect the fundamental right of pharmacists to practice their profession without having to violate their conscience.
Our attorneys secured a sweeping victory for pro-life pharmacy owners in Illinois after a legal battle lasting six years. A state court in Illinois issued a decision striking down a state law that compels pharmacy owners to dispense Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, even if doing so violates their religious or moral beliefs.
In August 2009, a state judge granted the ACLJ’s request for a preliminary injunction in the case of two pharmacy owners, Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog in the case of Morr-Fitz, Inc. v. Blagojevich.
The case went to trial in March 2010 and a decision today by Judge John W. Belz of the circuit court sitting in Springfield declared that the state law violates the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In his ruling, Judge Belz noted that “The government asserts that this Rule serves a compelling interest in timely access to drugs. Yet the government concedes that it had never done anything to advance its asserted interest prior to April 2010. Even as to emergency contraception, the Court heard no evidence of a single person who ever was unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection.” The decision is posted here.
Our clients Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog – who own a number of pharmacies – reacted to the decision:
VanderBleek reiterated his reason for refusing to fill “morning after” pills. “Women are instructed to take this medication without regard that she may be carrying a human life,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience prescribe the medication. It is a pill that ends life.”
“We believe we’re in the practice of pharmacy to preserve life and to take away pain and suffering,” VanderBleek added, “and we’re not really there for the comfort and convenience of some who would want to end life early or to abort life. We wouldn’t stock or dispense any sort of medicines that we thought were intended to and had the ability to sacrifice human life.”
And Kosirog agreed with the Judge’s ruling that determined that there was “no evidence of a single person who ever was unable to obtain emergency contraception because of a religious objection.”
“I can count on both hands other pharmacies in our area where they could get it,” Kosirog said.
This decision represents a major victory for the rights of conscience. It took six years, but our clients have finally prevailed against a state government determined to coerce them and all pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods. Such treatment is not permissible by either Illinois state law or the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
We have a long track record of defending the rights of pro-life pharmacists in Illinois. In Menges v. Blagojevich, we represented seven individual pharmacists who succeeded in having the state amend the regulation to recognize the conscience rights of individual pharmacists. In Vandersand v. Walmart and Quayle v. Walgreens, our attorneys convinced two other courts that Illinois pharmacists are protected by the State’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act.
What happens with this latest court decision?
The Illinois Attorney General’s office says it plans to appeal.
We will be ready and meet this challenge at the appeals court level. We’re confident this decision will stand especially since the defendants failed to produce at trial any evidence in support of their arguments.
We will keep you posted.