Georgia’s broad “conscience clauses” are under renewed scrutiny due to reports that a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a drug some abortion opponents don’t like. According to Brittany Cartrett, a Walmart pharmacy blocked her prescription for Misoprostol. Cartrett needed the drug to manage a natural miscarriage, but it is also often prescribed to induce medical abortions.
“She [the pharmacist] looks at my name and she says oh, well…I couldn’t think of a valid reason why you would need this prescription,” Cartrett wrote in a post on her personal Facebook page. Although she and her physician confirmed that the drug had been prescribed for a miscarriage, not an induced abortion, the pharmacist reportedly would not relent and told her, “I don't feel like there is a reason why you would need it, so we refused to fill it.”Cartrett finally received the drug from another pharmacy, but is furious about her experience with Walmart.
On her Facebook cage, Cartrett asked, “What if this was my first miscarriage and I was going through this tragedy” without knowing what to expect “and this lady with her judgmental eyes [is] staring at me? After already feeling bad about my body betraying what it was designed to do, then to get a judgment like that -- automatic assumption that I am taking it to abort my baby?” But Walmart insists that this isn’t a case of conscientious objection.
“The pharmacist exercised professional judgment about the medication and chose not to fill the prescription and reached out to customer’s doctor and shared that information,” said company spokesman Brian Nick. Nick also told Mother Jones that the pharmacist refused because the prescription didn’t follow FDA regulations.The FDA, however, has approved Misoprostol for off-label use in managing miscarriages. Mother Jones also reports that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists determined the drug is effective in managing 99 percent of miscarriages.
That undermines Walmart’s claim that the pharmacist’s personal beliefs had no influence on her decision to refuse to dispense Misoprostol.
And Cartrett says she isn’t the only Georgia woman to report such difficulty obtaining the drug. In a comment on her Facebook post she added, “Someone personally messaged me and told me that she had to go through 5 different pharmacists before someone would fill the same prescription I tried to get and she was going through the same thing.”
Another commenter reported similar trouble, writing, “The pharmacist proceeded to lecture me about how I needed to verify I wasn’t pregnant first before taking it! I was already in tears (it wasn't my first miscarriage) and she was clueless. After explaining the situation, she said she needed to speak to my doctor personally in order to fill it.” The woman chose a surgical procedure to deal with the miscarriage rather than face the pharmacist again.Failure to remove the contents of a miscarriage can result in septicemia, or blood poisoning. It’s a life-threatening condition, as demonstrated by the infamous case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 after an Irish hospital refused to terminate her miscarriage. An inquest blamed hospital staff’s interpretation of the country’s strict abortion law as a significant contributing factor to her death; that law makes it illegal to “procure a miscarriage.”
Although there are grave consequences to impeding a miscarrying woman’s access to Misoprostol, conscience clauses don’t typically make exceptions for miscarriages. Some pharmacists even rely on the laws to block access to contraception.
According to a Yale University study cited by MSNBC, medical professionals in California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington refused to fill prescriptions or perform procedures that violated their personal religious beliefs. In one particularly extreme case, a physician and midwife in Pennsylvania refused to recommend a patient receive an abortion even though her amniotic fluid had become infected.
Cartrett closed her Facebook post with a plea: “There has to be answers here. There has to be an apology for this. And I’m sharing this for everyone to share so that this doesn’t happen to someone else. This has to stop.”
She’s right. Even if we accept Walmart’s version of events, it’s evident that Georgia’s conscience clause is much too broad and puts women in danger. Pharmacists should understand the dangers of withholding drugs like Misoprostol from miscarrying women. If they don’t – or if they simply choose to prioritize their personal beliefs over another human being's life – they should find another line of work.