In a case believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, an Aitkin County jury will decide this week whether the human rights of a rural Minnesota woman were violated when her local pharmacist refused to fill a birth control prescription. ’emergency.
Andrea Anderson, a mother of five from McGregor, Minnesota, sought a morning after pill after a condom broke during sex. His pharmacist, citing his beliefs, refused to fill the prescription. She sued under Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, including issues related to pregnancy and childbirth.
As contraception has moved to the center of national political debate – with the US House of Representatives passing a bill last week guaranteeing the right to contraception under federal law – the decision in the case of Anderson could wake up activists on both sides of the issue.
A spokesperson for Gender Justice, the St. Paul-based group that provides legal representation to Anderson, said her case appears to be the first in the country to be tried by a woman who was denied contraception. Women could bring similar cases in other states that have sex discrimination laws covering reproductive issues.
All attorneys involved in the case declined to comment, saying they did not want to influence the jury panel. The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which regulates pharmacists in the state, did not respond to a question about its policy of refusing to supply contraceptives.
The civil case took nearly three years to reach trial and produced a mass of legal documents that shed light on each side’s positions and the issues at stake.
In January 2019, Anderson got a prescription for Ella, an emergency contraceptive. According to a report filed with the court by an expert witness, Ella is not an abortion pill, but works by delaying or preventing ovulation during the menstrual cycle in which it is taken, and is more effective when taken taken sooner after sex.
George Badeaux, a pharmacist for nearly 40 years and then manager of Thrifty White at McGregor, told Anderson he could not fill the prescription because of his beliefs, according to court documents.
He said another pharmacist who was due to work the next day could fill it, but a predicted snowstorm could prevent the other pharmacist from getting to work. Badeaux offered to send the prescription to a pharmacy in Brainerd, more than 80 km away.
At that point, according to a deposition, Anderson became angry and ended the phone call, saying, “I’m going to do something about it.”
After being denied his prescription by Badeaux and Thrifty White, Anderson sought to have it filled at a CVS pharmacy in Aitkin, Minnesota. According to court records, a CVS pharmacy technician said Anderson’s prescription couldn’t be filled there and falsely told Anderson she couldn’t fill it at Brainerd either. Anderson’s lawsuit originally included CVS as a defendant, but the parties reached a settlement.
Anderson eventually had her prescription filled at a Walgreens pharmacy in Brainerd, driving the more than 100 miles round trip in wintry conditions that had resulted in at least one serious car accident in the area.
According to court documents, Anderson then called the pharmacy owner Thrifty White and complained. The owner, Matt Hutera, then called Badeaux and was “hot” about the situation, Badeaux testified, telling him he should have filled the prescription.
Badeaux refused to dispense contraceptive drugs on three other occasions in his career, he testified, believing the drugs would induce an abortion. In court papers, Badeaux said her objection to Ella’s distribution was because she could potentially prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus.
This, he said, would prevent “the new DNA, the new life, from being able to continue living and growing. It’s like taking all care away from a newborn baby by throwing it out the back door into the woods. “.
According to the scientific evidence in the case, emergency contraceptives such as Ella and Plan B are not the same as the so-called “abortion pill” – which is actually a combination of two drugs that end abortion. pregnancy by causing emptying of the woman’s body. her uterus, pushing out the implanted egg.
An important legal distinction in this case is its filing under state human rights law. In a pretrial order, Aitkin County District Judge David Hermerding ruled that Badeaux could not raise federal constitutional issues such as freedom of religion at trial.
“The question for the jury is not the constitutional rights of the accused,” the judge wrote. “It’s about whether he deliberately misled, obscured and blocked Ms. Anderson’s path to getting Ella.”
Badeaux will be allowed to explain his religious beliefs to the jury, the judge said, “but not in such a way as to confuse the jury into believing this is a religious freedom contest.”
Jury selection is due to begin Monday morning and the case is expected to close before the end of the week.