A woman in Arizona made the brave choice this week, to make a very private loss — a miscarriage — into a public discussion, in the hopes that her story can save other women from what she went through at her local Walgreens. The pharmacist there refused to fill the prescription required to help her end her pregnancy, citing moral objections, even though her fetus no longer had a heartbeat.
Because of a previous miscarriage, her doctor was closely monitoring her, Nicole Arteaga explained on Facebook. But on Tuesday, two months into her pregnancy, he discovered there was no fetal development or heartbeat and said she could either have a surgical D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure at the hospital or take prescription medication at home to induce contractions. When she went to pick up her medication, the pharmacist refused to give it to her.
“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,” Arteaga wrote. “I get it we all have our beliefs. 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 it’s like to want nothing more than to carry a child to full term and be unable to do so. If you have gone thru a miscarriage you know the pain and emotional roller it can be.”
The prescription Arteaga was trying to fill was for Misoprostol, which is commonly used to terminate pregnancies, prepare the cervix for insertion of an IUD, or treat stomach ulcers. Pharmacists have been known to refuse to give women this medication, as well as prescriptions for over-the-counter emergency contraception pills, because of their anti-abortion beliefs.
Cosmopolitan writer Haley Potiker described the humiliating experience she had when trying to fill her Misoprostol prescription at a CVS in 2015. Her doctor had already administered a shot to terminate her pregnancy, and the medication was the next step she needed. Instead of refusing outright, the pharmacist said she needed to hear directly from her doctor.
“I started demanding my prescription back, which took a minute and eventually ended in tears,” Potiker recounted. “She finally tossed the slip of paper onto the counter and walked away without a word.”
Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota all have laws specifically allowing pharmacists the right to refuse to fill prescriptions, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Other states have broader laws that allow health care providers to refuse certain types of services but prohibit them from preventing customers from accessing it elsewhere. And in California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Washington, and Wisconsin, pharmacies are required to provide patients with their prescribed medication.
At a Walgreens in New Mexico last year, a woman was trying to fill her daughter’s prescription for Misoprostol before she had an IUD inserted, and the pharmacist refused. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the mother and daughter are suing the pharmacy chain for violating their human rights under the state’s law, on the grounds that “Had (she) been a man with a valid prescription for the same medication, the prescription would have been filled.”
Despite the law in Arizona, Walgreens told local 10 News that company policy requires an objecting pharmacist to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty. That is not what Arteaga said she experienced, even though there were two other employees who could have helped her.
“I was not given the option to have someone else in that store give me the prescription,” she told 10 News. “Those guidelines were broken.”
Instead, she had to go to another pharmacy across town the next morning. She filed a complaint with the Arizona Board of Pharmacy and contacted the Walgreens corporate office, which has said it is looking into the matter.
The National Women’s Law Center advises anyone who is refused contraceptive medication to do just as she did, and then some: File a complaint with the state’s pharmacy board, communicate the story to the press, ask the board or state legislature to put policies in place to allow for access to legal pharmaceuticals, and contact the pharmacy’s corporate headquarters to find out if they have rules in place to protect customers.
“I share this story because I wish no other women have to go thru something like this at time when you are vulnerable and already suffering,” Arteaga wrote on Facebook. “I am in left in disbelief on how this can happen? How is this okay?”
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