Pharmacist on trial for denying woman's request for morning-after pill

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A trial in Minnesota is expected to decide whether a woman's human rights were violated when a pharmacist denied her request in 2019 to fill a prescription for emergency contraception.

Andrea Anderson, a mother of five from McGregor, sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act after the pharmacist, based on his religious beliefs, refused to accommodate her request. State law prohibits discrimination based on sex, including issues related to pregnancy and childbirth.

The trial in the civil case comes amid national political debate about contraception under federal law with the U.S. House last week passing a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception. Democrats pushed through the measure in response to concerns a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that already erased federal abortion rights could go further and limit the use of contraception.

Jury selection in Aitkin County was scheduled to start Monday, with the case expected to conclude before the end of the week.

Anderson brought her prescription for a morning-after pill to the Thrifty White pharmacy in McGregor in January 2019, the Star Tribune reported. Longtime pharmacist George Badeaux told her he could not fill the prescription based on his beliefs, but that a pharmacist working the following day could fill it if a snowstorm didn't prevent the pharmacist from getting to work.

Anderson eventually got her prescription filled at a pharmacy in Brainerd, making the round-trip of more than 100 miles in wintry driving conditions.

Because the case is filed under the state's Human Rights Act, Aitkin County District Judge David Hermerding said Badeaux cannot raise federal constitutional issues such as freedom of religion at the trial.

“The issue for the jury is not defendant's constitutional rights,” the judge wrote. “It is whether he deliberately misled, obfuscated and blocked Ms. Anderson's path to obtaining” emergency contraception.

Badeaux will be allowed to explain his religious beliefs to the jury, the judge ruled, “but not in such a manner as to confuse the jury into thinking this is a religious freedom contest.”

Last month, for the first time a pharmaceutical company asked for permission to sell a birth control pill over the counter in the U.S.

HRA Pharma's application sets up a high-stakes decision for health regulators amid legal and political battles over women's reproductive health. The company said the timing was unrelated to the Supreme Court's recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Women across the U.S. have been stocking up on emergency contraceptives after the Supreme Court's ruling.

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