An Ionia woman is demanding that Meijer discipline a Petoskey pharmacist and implement a company-wide policy for how pharmacists should handle religious and moral objections to dispensing medication after she was denied a prescription to help complete a miscarriage.
Rachel Peterson, 35, alleges a pharmacist at the Meijer store on Lears Road in Petoskey refused to fill her prescription for a drug called misoprostol (brand name Cytotec) in July because of his personal religious views. She says he also refused to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.
Misoprostol can be used to prevent stomach ulcers and also can be used to induce labor during pregnancy, to aid in the completion of a miscarriage and in the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. When combined with another drug, it can be used to induce an abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter Tuesday on Peterson’s behalf to Meijer, saying what the pharmacist did was discriminatory and violated the state’s public accommodation laws.
“I think it’s very clear in this case that had Rachel been a man seeking this exact same medication for stomach ulcers, she wouldn’t have been turned away for the same reason,” said Merissa Kovach, a policy strategist for the ACLU of Michigan. “So Rachel was denied this based on the personal beliefs of this pharmacist and then also because she’s a woman.
“Unfortunately in Michigan, we don’t have an explicit state law that goes so far as to protect patients like Rachel,” she said. “What we would hope is that Meijer and other pharmacies would agree that they’re allowed to accommodate the personal beliefs of their employees, but that accommodation cannot include permitting discriminatory denials of care that burden patients and customers.
“Any customer should be able to expect the same service regardless of who they are and what their prescription is.”
Meijer spokeswoman Christina Fecher declined to comment on what happened to Peterson because of health privacy laws, but did say the company “works hard to support all of our pharmacy customers’ needs.”
“We recognize the right of a pharmacist to abstain from filling a prescription based on his or her religious beliefs, but the pharmacist is required to have another Meijer pharmacist fill the prescription or, if no other pharmacist is available at that time, to transfer the script to another pharmacy convenient to the customer. This is consistent with guidelines spelled out in the American Pharmacists Association policy manual.”
Fecher did not say whether the pharmacist still works at the store or whether he has been disciplined.