Ariz. Governor Vetoes Pharmacist Refusal Bill

Gov. Janet Napolitano (search) vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to provide emergency contraception if doing so conflicts with their moral or religious beliefs.

Napolitano, who supports abortion rights, said in her veto letter to lawmakers that pharmacies and other health care providers "have no right to interfere with the lawful personal medical decisions made by patients and their doctors."

The bill would have permitted pharmacies and hospitals to refuse to dispense drugs "prescribed to accomplish an abortion and emergency contraception based on a moral or religious objection." Emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill, reduces a woman's chance of becoming pregnant within 72 hours of intercourse by preventing ovulation or fertilization and interfering with implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus.

Bill supporters expressed disappointment with the veto of what three Catholic bishops called civil rights legislation for health care professionals and institutions.

"For these providers, including Catholic hospitals, 'rights of conscience' are particularly important when they involve the taking of an innocent human life," Bishops Thomas Olmstead (search) of Phoenix, Gerald F. Kicanas (search) of Tucson and Donald Pelotte (search) of Gallup, N.M., said in a joint statement.

Napolitano noted the bill was opposed by groups representing pharmacists, hospitals and nurses. "It is unwise to pass laws opposed by the leading associations of professionals whom the bill purports to protect," she wrote.

The Legislature approved the bill by margins less than those that would be needed to override a veto.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, a state board Wednesday approved sanctions against a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills or transfer it to another pharmacy because he believed providing a contraceptive would be against his religion.

The Pharmacy Examining Board said Neil Noesen had the right to refuse to fill the prescription if he thought it was wrong, but he then had the responsibility of getting the prescription to another pharmacist.

The board reprimanded Noesen and ordered him to attend ethics classes; he also is liable for an estimated $20,000 in costs for the proceedings against him. His lawyers did not immediately return messages Wednesday evening.

Also Wednesday, two Illinois pharmacists sued Gov. Rod Blagojevich for ordering them to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception even if it violates their religious beliefs.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which specializes in constitutional law, filed suit in state court in Springfield. The center is seeking injunctions against Blagojevich's emergency rule, filed April 1, that requires pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill birth control prescriptions, including for the morning-after pill, without delay.

The lawsuit argues the rule is unenforceable because it violates state laws, including the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. That act makes it unlawful for public officials to discriminate against or punish those who refuse to participate in health care services contrary to their conscience.

The center argues the act covers pharmacists; Blagojevich has said it does not.