nicole arteaga
Woman says Walgreens refused her prescription
02:03 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

It takes a special kind of awful to deny a woman having a miscarriage the necessary drugs to help her and then call yourself the moral one, but that’s just what a Walgreens pharmacist in Peoria, Arizona, did last week.

A woman pregnant with a much-wanted second child came into the Walgreens with her 7-year-old son to fill a prescription for misoprostol, a life-saving medication that helps to induce and speed along miscarriage.

Jill Filipovic

Her doctor had prescribed the drug because, as she wrote on her Yelp review rating Walgreens’ service: “Unfortunately, development isn’t happening and my body is slowly getting ready to miscarry. My (doctor) gave me two choices D & C [dilation and curettage] or a prescription that will help induce bleeding and discharge in the comfort of my home,” she wrote.

In other circumstances, misoprostol also stops hemorrhage after childbirth, saving the lives of new mothers around the world.

But because misoprostol is also used to induce elective abortion, the Walgreens pharmacist insisted he had a moral objection. The woman, Nicole Mone Areteaga, left the store weeping, humiliated at the pharmacy counter during one of the most vulnerable moments of her life – by a medical professional who was supposed to help her.

“What’s the problem?” said Arizona state Sen. John Kavanagh, proving that this kind of cruelty isn’t a one-man scourge. Kavanagh helped write the state law that allows pharmacists to refuse to do their jobs if they don’t want to give misoprostol to a miscarrying woman, or emergency contraception to a rape victim.

Because Arteaga got her prescription filled at a different Walgreens pharmacy, Kavanagh said, there isn’t an issue. In fact, he added, she’s the real problem: “I don’t see why she doesn’t respect the pharmacist’s right not to do this,” he said.

Perhaps she was appalled by the pharmacist’s behavior because miscarriages are emotionally, spiritually, psychically and physically painful – and because in some terrible cases, pregnancy complications result in serious injury or death if not treated appropriately. And because people expect to go to the pharmacy and get their prescriptions filled – not be shamed under the guise of religious freedom by someone who doesn’t know them, their lives, or why they’re even standing at the counter.

This isn’t the only affront to women’s rights making news this week.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court invalidated a California law requiring anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to be honest with women and make clear both that they are not licensed medical centers and do not offer abortions, and also inform women of their legal options.

California lawmakers had found that the centers used “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women from making fully-informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care” – attempting ultimately to push them to carry their pregnancies to term.

That behavior, the Supreme Court ruled, is protected under the First Amendment. And fair enough – but then one has to wonder why states can also require that abortion providers read legislatively mandated scripts to women that often contain abject lies (like that abortion causes breast cancer and suicide, even though there’s no evidence it does), and war with doctors’ professional judgment and the ethics of their profession.

There is no question that the assault on the rights of women –i n legislatures, in the courts, from the White House, and now at their neighborhood Walgreens – is real and it’s brutal.

What’s more, the Walgreen’s pharmacist is not the first to deny medication to women in crisis. Around the country, pharmacists have refused to fill emergency contraception prescriptions – some for women who had consensual unprotected sex and sought to avoid pregnancy (a reasonable and responsible move), and some for women who had been raped.

“Just go to a different pharmacy” doesn’t cut it. With emergency contraception, and with in-progress miscarriages– which are painful and often dangerous – time is limited, and acting quickly is crucial. Forcing women to drive to another pharmacy – especially if they are in a rural area where pharmacies are few and far between – negatively affects women’s health and impedes their right to health care.

It also does psychic harm. For example, one of the cruelties of rape is having your right to your own body stripped away; someone else takes control over your most intimate choices, and makes what should be voluntary and pleasurable into something violating and violent.

Trauma experts know that the most important thing for rape survivors is to reassert control over their bodies and their lives. Pharmacists who refuse their prescriptions send an ugly reminder: we are in charge of your body, not you.

In the case of miscarriage, many women describe feeling betrayed by their own bodies; the last thing a woman needs as she tries to take back control is betrayal by a medical professional asserting his will over hers.

Religious freedom is an important value, but it must exist inside a civil society for all. Could a pharmacist convert to being a Christian Scientist and refuse to fill prescriptions wholesale? What about someone whose religion tells him HIV is a punishment from God – can she refuse to fill medication for patients with HIV or AIDS? And if claims of religious morality trump all, what’s the difference?

Walgreens apologized. But that’s not enough. If pharmacists are going to refuse to do their jobs, Walgreens should fire them. They can also quit, if their moral objection is really so significant. Or at the very least, Walgreens must ensure that there is another pharmacist on the premises at all times who is willing to do the job they collect a paycheck for.

In its apology, Walgreens noted that pharmacists with moral objections “are also required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient’s needs in a timely manner.” This did not happen –and a Walgreens representative told Bloomberg News that the company would provide “additional training to all of our pharmacists on appropriately handling these situations in accordance with our policy.”

Forcing women to hop from pharmacy to pharmacy is unjust and abhorrent. And until Walgreens can meet the demands of its own policy, perhaps the rest of us should take our business elsewhere.