A pregnant woman in Peoria, Arizona, was reportedly refused medication to induce a miscarriage by a pharmacist at a local Walgreens, the woman reported on social media.
In a Facebook post and one-star Yelp review of the Walgreens location, first-grade teacher Nicole Mone Arteaga described her experience of being turned away by pharmacist Brian Hreniuc, when she arrived at the pharmacy on June 21 to pick up her prescription. Arteaga noted that her 9-week-old fetus had stopped developing, and her doctor gave her the choice between a surgical procedure and medication that induces a miscarriage — medication that Hreniuc wouldn’t provide due to his “ethical beliefs.”
“Tonight, when I went to pick up the prescription, the pharmacist, Brian Hreniuc, refused to give me the prescription. He was perfectly fine giving me the narcotic pain killers but would not give me the prescription needed to help my body release the nondeveloping fetus inside me. I stood at his mercy explaining my situation with five other customer[s] standing behind me hearing him deny me the medication because of his ethical beliefs,” Arteaga wrote in a Yelp post Thursday.
“I understand we all have our beliefs, but this isn’t something I believe in,” Arteaga continued. “It’s something that [I] need medically. This man has no idea what it’s like to be women trying to have a baby only to learn your body just won’t make it full term. This is by no means a prescription that I want but one that I need.”
Walgreens noted on Twitter that it allows pharmacists to “step away” from filling prescriptions to which they have a “moral objection,” but they must refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty. Arteaga said in an interview on CNN that Hreniuc told her she could either come back the next day and see a different pharmacist or go to a different Walgreens, but he “wasn’t sure what would happen.” Her prescription was ultimately referred to a different Walgreens location and filled the next day without any problems, Arteaga said on Facebook.
Arteaga described the anguish she felt over Hreniuc’s refusal during an already difficult time, telling CNN that while Hreniuc was “telling [her] no,” “all I could feel was helplessness.”
“The world felt like it was closing in, and I was thinking, like, this is my body and I’m losing control,” Arteaga said. “I couldn’t control the fact that my body wasn’t going to support this pregnancy, and I wanted this baby. I couldn’t control what my body was doing, and now here I am trying to make this decision of what I’m going to do, and this person was taking that away from me, and making that choice for me.”
In a statement quoted by CNN, Walgreens said they were investigating the incident “to ensure our patients’ needs are handled properly.”
“After learning what happened, we reached out to the patient and apologized for how the situation was handled,” Walgreens said in a statement. “To respect the sincerely held beliefs of our pharmacists while at the same time meeting the needs of our patients, our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection. At the same time, they are also required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient’s needs in a timely manner.”
Arteaga noted on Facebook that she has contacted Walgreens’ corporate office over the incident, and also filed a complaint with the Arizona Board of Pharmacy.
Under Arizona state law, pharmacies are required to ask employees to provide in writing any prescription drugs or devices they would “decline to fill because of the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The pharmacy must then “attempt to accommodate” the employee if that accommodation can be made without “undue hardship” to the pharmacy or its customers, including a delay, financial cost or damage to the pharmacy’s reputation.
The law also allows health professionals to refer rape victims seeking emergency contraception to another health professional if the employee’s “religious tenets prohibit the use of contraceptive methods.”
These “pharmacist conscience clauses” aren’t limited to Arizona. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona is one of six states that allow pharmacists to refuse to provide emergency contraception drugs, along with Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota. Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine and Tennessee also have broader refusal clauses, though they do not specifically mention pharmacists.