Health & Reproductive Justice

Health and Reproductive Justice

Health Care Refusals

Refusal to Provide Health Care Based on Personal Beliefs Harms Women

Throughout the country, legislatures (and some courts) have granted health care providers sweeping rights to refuse to help people because of the health care providers' personal beliefs. While federal laws have long exempted health care providers from having to provide abortions in most circumstances, the last several years have seen an unprecedented effort to expand the ability of health care providers to refuse to treat, refer, or inform patients about any and all health care needs. For example, Idaho passed a law in 2010 that emboldens health care providers to refuse to help patients.  Read our letter opposing Idaho’s law.

Health care refusals hurt all patients, but they fall most heavily on women, the LGBT community, and people needing end of life care. Women suffer denials of abortion care, contraception, and other reproductive health services; lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals have been denied all manner of medical care because of bigotry based on sexual orientation or gender identity. All are at risk that a health care provider's or institution's religious belief will trump the patient’s wishes for end-of-life care. These denials often come with refusals to refer patients to helpful providers, refusals to provide medically accurate information about a patient's options, and lecturing or insulting patients who seek health care.

Legal Voice has worked hard to defend patients’ access to health care, particularly at the pharmacy. Our involvement in the issue started back in 2005, when women across the United States found themselves turned away from their local drugstores when presenting their pharmacists with prescriptions for birth control pills, especially emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill. It's not just birth control, however: pregnant women have been refused drugs they need simply because they were pregnant; women have been refused misoprostol, a drug used in many gynecological procedures; other patients have been refused antibiotics and insulin needles. Legal Voice believes that patients' rights to health care can be balanced with the individual beliefs of pharmacists or other health care providers, through laws and policies that require the pharmacy to make sure a patient gets his or her lawfully prescribed medication without discrimination and in a timely manner.

That's why we're fighting to defend Washington rules requiring pharmacies to fill patients' prescriptions. That's why we urged the Oregon Board of Pharmacy to change its policy allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill any prescription. And that's why we need your help. If you've been refused at the pharmacy counter, we'd like to hear about it — please contact us.

Legal Voice Defends Washington Regulations Requiring Pharmacies to Fill Your Prescriptions

On April 12, 2007, after two years of advocacy by Legal Voice and other groups and citizens throughout the state, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy adopted rules requiring pharmacies to ensure that patients get their prescriptions filled on site and in a timely manner. The rules require pharmacies to dispense all lawfully prescribed drugs and devices, including over-the-counter drugs like Plan B (emergency contraception) and clarify that a pharmacist's personal and/or moral judgments have no place at the pharmacy counter. These rules are critical to ensuring that women – and all people in Washington – can get their needed prescriptions for birth control, HIV/AIDS medications, insulin needles, and all other medications in a timely manner.

Soon after the rules went into effect, two individual pharmacists and a pharmacy owner challenged these rules in federal court. Legal Voice joined the lawsuit, Stormans, et al., v. Selecky, et al., as co-counsel for seven individuals who intervened in the suit to protect their, and others', rights to timely access to medication. The case has had many twists and turns, including a suspension of the rules pending trial, a reversal of that suspension by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (read the Court’s opinion), and an 11-day trial.

At the conclusion of the trial the judge ruled that the regulations are unconstitutional, and we and the State appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit as well. Read our brief. We are now awaiting a date for oral argument before the appeals court.

This case is the most advanced in the country relating to religious refusals. We anticipate that whoever wins on appeal, the case might very well end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. If that happens, we’ll be there too.

Women's rights. Nothing less.



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