A Michigan woman said she was allegedly denied a prescription to complete her miscarriage by a pharmacist who said doing so would violate his religious beliefs.
Rachel Peterson, 35, and her husband had decided they wanted to have a child earlier this year.
But in June, the couple was devastated to learn that though Peterson was nine weeks pregnant with twins, one had died, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Two weeks later, they learned the second fetus had also died.
Peterson told the paper that her doctor said there were three ways to complete her miscarriage. She could wait to see if her body did so without any intervention, take the drug misoprostol to move the miscarriage along, or have a surgical procedure called a dilation and curettage, or a D&C, to remove any remaining fetal tissue.
Peterson chose to see what her body could do on its own, but when the process took longer than expected, her doctor prescribed her misoprostol to ensure the miscarriage completed and she didn’t develop an infection.
When a miscarriage isn’t completed, women run the risk of developing sepsis. Peterson said she called in the prescription from the Meijer store in Petoskey, where she and her husband had traveled for a weekend away and to grieve their loss. But as she prepared to pick it up, she said she received a call from its pharmacist.
“He said that he was a good Catholic male and that he couldn’t in good conscience give me this medication because it’s used for abortions, and he could not prescribe that," Peterson told the Free Press.
She said she explained her situation, but the man was adamant that he would not fill the prescription.
“When I divulged to him that the fetus was no longer viable, and that ... I needed to progress the situation further, he said, 'Well, that’s your word and I don’t believe you,' and he refused to fill it,” she said.
He also allegedly refused to transfer the prescription to another local pharmacy.
"I was really upset. I was angry too," she said. "When you’re at one of the lowest moments in your life, you don’t think someone would do that to you — especially to call you a liar and not be understanding or empathetic at all.”
Ultimately, Peterson said she was able to get the prescription transferred to the Meijer pharmacy in her hometown of Ionia, which was about three-and-a-half hours from where she and her husband were staying. The pharmacist there was more cooperative, she said.
“He was wonderful," Peterson said of the pharmacist at the Ionia location. "He was super supportive, and he said he would do everything he could to get the script for me. And if he had to, he would call my [OB-GYN] to get it filled."
Peterson and her husband drove back home to get the medicine, while her mother, to whom she had tearfully explained what happened, decided to take matters into her own hands.
“While I was talking to her, I was Googling the Meijer pharmacy phone number,” Peterson’s mother, Nancy Bianchi, told the Free Press. “I was seething … I said I would call her back in a little bit. The minute I got off the phone with her, I called the pharmacy."
Bianchi said she spoke with the store’s manager and asked to speak with someone in human resources. But first, she said she talked to the pharmacist who refused her daughter’s medicine, and that he tried to justify his actions, saying he didn’t know Peterson had miscarried.
"I said, 'It’s not your job to know the full story. Your job is to be a professional and fill a prescription. A medically licensed doctor gave you a prescription to fill, and you have absolutely no right. ... If you, who call yourself a Christian, decided that you could not do this, then you needed to pass it off, as the law states, to somebody that could fill it,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter Tuesday on Peterson’s behalf to Meijer, writing that the pharmacist’s actions were discriminatory and violated the state’s public accommodation law.
“Our client clearly was a victim of sex discrimination,” Merissa Kovach, ACLU of Michigan policy strategist, said in a statement. “Had the customer been a man prescribed the same medication, that is also commonly used to treat ulcers, the pharmacist would have filled it.”
The ACLU also said that by talking with Peterson’s mother about her case and the medicine she was prescribed, the pharmacist broke privacy laws.
“Being in the medical field, that is an absolute no,” Peterson, who works as a cardiovascular sonographer, told the Free Press. “You cannot talk to anybody about it without their consent and permission. What if it was someone posing as my mother? He had no idea."
When reached for comment by InsideEdition.com, a spokeswoman for Meijer said in a statement:
“Meijer has received a letter from the ACLU regarding a complaint that one of our pharmacists inappropriately handled a refusal to fill a prescription. We have thoroughly investigated these allegations and while we cannot discuss this specific matter due to federal and state privacy laws that protect health information, we want all of our pharmacy customers to know of our practices regarding a pharmacists’ ability to refuse to fill a prescription.
"Our practice is based upon our overwhelming concern for patient safety and care, balanced with the need to accommodate the religious beliefs of our employees. A pharmacist may refuse to fill a prescription based upon religious beliefs. However, our procedure requires the prescription to then be filled by another pharmacist in the store. If no other pharmacist is available, the pharmacist must consult with the patient to arrange for the transfer of the prescription to another pharmacy that is convenient to them. This is consistent with the American Pharmacy Association and the Michigan Pharmacy Association Guidelines. A pharmacist who fails to follow this procedure is in violation of our process.
“Meijer strives to treat its pharmacy customers with dignity and respect," the statement added. "The pharmacist identified by recent reports has not been employed by Meijer since early July 2018. While we cannot comment on any pharmacy customer matter, we apologize for any customer experience that does not align with our core values.”