A Michigan woman grieving the loss of her unborn baby says a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription to help her miscarry her deceased fetus, telling her it was against his religion as “a good Catholic male.”
Rachel Peterson, 35, filed a complaint via the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on Monday against Meijer Inc. following her July ordeal at one of the supermarket chain’s pharmacies in the resort town of Petoskey, Michigan, where she was vacationing with her husband.
The incident took place just days after a woman reported a similar experience at a Walgreens pharmacy in Arizona in late June, leading to an investigation of misconduct by that company.
Peterson, recalling her experience, said the employee berated her and accused her of lying about her miscarriage in order to end her pregnancy with the medication designed to induce labor and prevent her from having the dead fetus surgically removed.
The employee allegedly refused to have someone else fill her prescription or transfer it to another pharmacy nearby when asked. Peterson said that led her to immediately cut short her vacation so she could get the prescription filled in her home in Ionia, a three-hour drive away.
The pharmacist, identified by the ACLU as Richard Kalkman, allegedly told Peterson that “as a good Catholic male,” he could not “in good conscience fill the prescription,” according to the ACLU’s complaint.
“When you’re at one of the lowest moments of your life, you don’t expect this sort of demeaning treatment,” Peterson said in a statement. “A pharmacy should not be able to deny patients medication prescribed by their doctors based on the personal beliefs of a particular employee.”
When you’re at one of the lowest moments of your life, you don’t expect this sort of demeaning treatment." Rachel Peterson
The ACLU’s legal team termed the prescription denial not just cruel but unlawful.
“All women should be able to go to a Meijer Pharmacy to obtain the medicine they need without fear of discrimination,” Merissa Kovach, ACLU of Michigan policy strategist, said in a statement. “Our client clearly was a victim of sex discrimination. Had the customer been a man prescribed the same medication, that is also commonly used to treat ulcers, the pharmacist would have filled it.”
Kalkman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Meijer, in a statement obtained by HuffPost, said it cannot comment on the details of the case because of health privacy laws but added that company officials have “thoroughly investigated these allegations.”
The employee named in the complaint has not been employed by the company since early July, the company said, which is around the time the incident occurred.
“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,” the company said. “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.”
As the ACLU pointed out, the pharmacist may have also violated a state public health code by divulging details about Peterson’s prescription to her mother, Nancy Bianchi, without Peterson’s authorization.
Bianchi, of Clinton Township, said she contacted the pharmacy after her daughter called her sobbing about what happened.
“I said, ‘I don’t think you have any idea of what you just did to my daughter.’ ... To be honest, I went off on him,” Bianchi said, recalling her conversation to The Detroit Free Press.
The pharmacist allegedly denied knowing that Peterson had miscarried her baby when confronted by Bianchi.
“I said, ‘It’s not your job to know the full story. Your job is to be a professional and fill a prescription,’” Bianchi said. “A medically licensed doctor gave you a prescription to fill... 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.”