Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. will revamp its training after an Arizona woman said she was humiliated when a pharmacist, citing personal objections, refused to fill a prescription to treat her miscarriage.
In an incident that sparked heated commentary on social media, a pharmacist at a Walgreens store in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria wouldn’t dispense a miscarriage drug for Nicole Mone Arteaga, who had just found out that her baby’s development had stopped.
“I left Walgreens in tears, ashamed and feeling humiliated by a man who knows nothing of my struggles but feels it is his right to deny medication prescribed to me by my doctor,” Arteaga said in a Facebook post on June 22.
According to BuzzFeed news, Arteaga was prescribed misoprostol, one of two medicines used in medical abortion. But the drug is also used as a standard treatment during miscarriages to help speed the process of expelling nonviable tissue, as an alternative to surgery. Arteaga, who later obtained the medicine from a different Walgreens store, didn’t immediately respond to a text message, or a phone message left with her mother.
Six states, including Arizona, have laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense medication based on personal belief, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Several other states have broader laws that could be interpreted as allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide a drug, the group says.
Walgreens has policies that allow pharmacists to avoid filling a prescription when they have moral objections. But the pharmacist is required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager “in a timely manner,” said Michael Polzin, a spokesman for the Deerfield, Illinois-based company.
“We will provide additional training to all of our pharmacists on appropriately handling these situations in accordance with our policy,” said Polzin, who added that the details of the training were still being worked out. “We want the process to be as seamless as possible for the patient.”
Walgreens has apologized to Arteaga, he said.
Walgreens is the latest retailer to examine its training policies after an incident at one of its stores. Earlier this year, Starbucks Corp. faced a public outcry after two black men were arrested at a store in Philadelphia while they were waiting for a meeting without ordering. In response, the company closed all of its U.S. stores for racial bias training on May 29.
Arizona state Senator John Kavanagh, a Republican who co-sponsored the 2009 law that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill abortion or emergency-contraceptive prescriptions based on moral or religious beliefs, said he was surprised that Arteaga wasn’t more sympathetic with the pharmacist, given that she eventually was able to get the medicine from another Walgreens location.
“What’s the problem?” he said. “She got what she wanted. The pharmacist complied with the law. I don’t see why she doesn’t respect the pharmacist’s right to not do this,” he said.
Most pharmacy chains have developed procedures to quickly find other pharmacists to fill prescriptions for patients when a pharmacist objects, said Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the law center.
In theory, the patient “shouldn’t even know this is occurring,” said Borchelt. “What is unfortunate in this case that we heard about in social media was the way that pharmacist treated the patient and shamed and judged her.”
A rival drugstore chain, CVS Health Corp. said it has policies in place “to ensure no patient is ever denied access to prescribed medication based on a pharmacist’s individual religious or moral beliefs,” Michael DeAngelis, a spokesman for the company, said in an email.
Under state and federal law, the company must allow pharmacists to opt out of prescribing specific medications on religious grounds, he said.
“In such instances, the pharmacist is required to notify us in advance about such a religious conviction, so that we can ensure there are other arrangements in place to ensure the patient’s medication needs are promptly satisfied,” DeAngelis said.