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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pharmacist denies woman miscarriage drug on moral grounds

This June 4, 2014, file photo, shows a Walgreens retail store in Boston. (Charles Krupa / Associated Press)
By Melissa Daniels Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. – The Arizona State Board of Pharmacy will investigate the complaint of a woman who says a Walgreens pharmacist denied to give her medication necessary to end her pregnancy after her baby stopped developing.

The woman, who the Arizona Republic identified as Nicole Arteaga, described in a viral Facebook post how she was publicly humiliated when attempting to fill the prescription that would end her pregnancy – a pregnancy that she wanted, but needed to be terminated because she would ultimately miscarry. She says the pharmacist refused to fill the prescription with other customers within earshot and she left the location in tears with her 7-year-old child by her side.

Arteaga, who was able to fill her prescription at a different location later, filed a complaint with the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy.

Kam Gandhi, executive director at the board, said that the agency hasn’t talked to Arteaga or the pharmacist yet. But it will aim to do a full investigation before the board’s next meeting in August, Gandhi said.

“Obviously it’s a sensitive matter, and we have to approach it delicately,” he said. “If we get everything in order, we’ll present it at the August meeting.”

Arizona is one of multiple states with a “conscience clause” law that allows health care providers to refrain from assisting in abortion, abortion medication or emergency contraception. The law says medical professionals like pharmacists must state their objection in writing.

Gandhi said that part of the law hasn’t been interpreted by the board before.

“Does it have to be presented to the patient, does it have to be at the store, or does it have to be in the pharmacist’s personnel file?” he said. “That’s what’s up in the air.”

Once the investigation is presented to the board, it can determine whether to dismiss the complaint or take further action. That could include a type of warning letter, civil penalties, a voluntary surrender of license or continued education, Gandhi said.

Arteaga also said she had contacted Walgreen’s corporate office. On Monday, the company was tweeting replies to individuals who were outraged by Arteaga’s post.

Some customers said they were taking their prescription business elsewhere. The company pushed out multiple repeated responses. In one, the company said it apologized to the patient about how the situation was handled. It also said it was looking into the matter further, while another message explained store policies.

“Our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection,” the tweet read. “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.”

In her post, Arteaga said she typically wouldn’t make such a Facebook post, but no woman should have to go through what she did.

She found out she was pregnant about two months ago and was being monitored weekly because of a prior miscarriage. Last week, Arteaga’s doctor told her that her baby had stopped developing and she would ultimately miscarry. Her doctor gave her the prescription after she opted to use medication to terminate the pregnancy instead of a procedure.

She said the pharmacist refused to fill her prescription in front of her child and five customers behind her in line.

“I get it we all have our beliefs,” she wrote. “But what he failed to understand is this isn’t the situation I had hoped for, this isn’t something I wanted. This is something I have zero control over. He has no idea what it’s like to want nothing more than to carry a child to full term and be unable to do so.”