Pharmacists Sue Drug Store Over Birth Control Policy

Four pharmacists who refused to sign a pledge promising to dispense the morning-after birth-control pill sued Walgreen drug stores Friday, alleging they were illegally fired.

The lawsuits accuse Walgreen Co. of violating the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The pharmacists were being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

A new state rule requires pharmacies that sell federally approved contraceptives to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control "without delay" if they have the medication in stock. The rule is being challenged in federal court.

In response to the rule, Deerfield-based Walgreen asked pharmacists to pledge in writing that they would fill prescriptions for contraceptives such as the morning-after pill. The plaintiffs were suspended indefinitely without pay when they refused to sign the pledge in November.

"It couldn't be any clearer," said ACLJ senior counsel Francis J. Manion. "In punishing these pharmacists for asserting a right protected by the Conscience Act, Walgreens broke the law."

Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin said the company needed to ensure that its stores would comply with the new regulations regarding the dispensing of emergency contraceptives.

"We are required to follow the law. We don't have a choice in the matter," he said.