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Walgreens says its pharmacist had the right to refuse to fill pregnancy-ending medication

An Arizona woman went to her pharmacy to pick up misoprostol, but the pharmacist refused to give it to her.

by Carter Sherman
Jun 25 2018, 1:00pm

One day after an Arizona mom accused a Walgreens pharmacist of refusing to fill a prescription for a medication to end her failed pregnancy, the 8,000-store chain has stepped in to explain itself.

In a lengthy Facebook post published Friday, Nicole Arteaga said she was nine weeks pregnant when her doctor gave her devastating news: Her pregnancy was over. There was no fetal heartbeat. She had to remove the fetal tissue from her uterus.

Arteaga’s doctor told her that she could either undergo a surgical procedure or take the pill misoprostol, according to her Facebook post. Arteaga opted for the latter, and her doctor wrote a prescription, the New York Times reported.

But when she went to her pharmacy to pick up misoprostol, the pharmacist refused to give it to her. She wrote, “I stood at the mercy of this pharmacist explaining my situation in front of my 7-year-old, and five customers standing behind only to be denied because of his ethical beliefs.”

“I get it: We all have our beliefs,” she went on. “But what he failed to understand is this isn’t the situation I had hoped for, this isn’t something I wanted. This is something I have zero control over. He has no idea what its [sic] like to want nothing more than to carry a child to full term and be unable to do so.”

By Monday, Arteaga’s comment had garnered more than 57,000 reactions and shared nearly 35,000 times.

It also prompted a response from Walgreens, in apparent defense of the pharmacist.

“Our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection,” Walgreens wrote in a tweet Saturday, in response to several tweets by people outraged on Arteaga’s behalf. “At the same time, they are also required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient's needs in a timely manner.”

In response to another tweet about Arteaga’s case, Walgreens wrote, “After learning what happened, we reached out to the patient and apologized for how the situation was handled. We are looking into the matter to ensure that our patients' needs are handled properly.”

Walgreens didn’t immediately respond to a VICE News request for further information about its interactions with Arteaga.

Arizona is one of six states that permit pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception drugs, like Plan B, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota are the other states.) New Jersey also allows pharmacists to refuse to dispense any drug based on moral, ethical, or religious grounds.

In an update to her initial post, Arteaga said that she ulimately filled her prescription at another Walgreens location.

“I share this story because I wish no other women have to go thru [sic] something like this at time when you are vulnerable and already suffering,” Arteaga wrote. “I am in left in disbelief on how this can happen? How is this okay?”