WASHINGTON — Religious-liberty advocates are hailing the end of a seven-year legal battle over the required provision of abortion drugs in Illinois pharmacies as a major triumph for conscience rights.
“This decision is a great victory for religious freedom,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented the pharmacists in the case for several years.
“The government shouldn’t kick business owners out of the market just because it dislikes their religious beliefs,” he said in a statement.
“Over seven years of litigation, there was never a shred of proof that a religious objection at a pharmacy harmed anyone,” Rienzi explained. “These pharmacists do a wonderful job serving their communities, and the state’s decision not to appeal lets them get back to that important work.”
On Dec. 10, the Illinois attorney general announced that it would not appeal a court decision upholding the conscience rights of pharmacists against a state mandate requiring the dispensation of abortion-inducing drugs.
After seven years in court, the decision secures a victory for two Illinois pharmacists and the pharmacies they run.
The case stems from a 2005 executive rule issued by then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to require all pharmacists and pharmacies in the state to dispense Plan B, also known as the “morning-after pill.”
While it is commonly called “emergency contraception,” the drug can cause an early abortion by ending the life of a newly created human embryo.
Pharmacists who did not comply with the rule were threatened with fines and the loss of professional licenses. The governor did not allow a religious exemption to the rule, saying that pharmacists who were morally opposed to the drug should find a different profession.
Several pharmacists and pharmacies that morally object to cooperating in the destruction of human life filed a lawsuit challenging the rule.
The suit argued that the rule violated state religious-liberty laws, health-care conscience protections and the religious-freedom guarantees in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It charged that the rule unfairly discriminated against health-care professionals seeking to contribute to society according to their principles by forcing them to choose between their constitutionally protected rights and their livelihood.
In April 2011, an Illinois trial court granted a permanent injunction blocking the rule from applying to the pharmacists. The court found no evidence that anyone had been harmed by a pharmacist’s religious objections to providing the drugs. It also noted that the law allowed pharmacies to refuse to sell drugs for many other business reasons but not religious ones.
A state appellate court affirmed the injunction in September 2012, finding that the rule amounted to “discrimination in licensing” against those with religious objections to early abortion drugs.
Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, hailed the decision as “a tremendous victory.”
Americans United for Life, which filed the original lawsuit in the case, noted that many individuals throughout the country face similar dilemmas due to the Obama administration’s recent federal mandate requiring employers to offer health-insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs.
Yoest said that the victory in Illinois “has dramatic implications for all people of faith who object to being forced to throw aside their convictions to support an anti-life agenda.”