ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque woman claims she was denied her birth control pills because of her pharmacist's religious beliefs.
Susanne Koestner said she called the Walgreens pharmacy located at Central Ave. and Eubank Blvd. on June 10 to get her prescription refilled. But Koestner said she was told to come back the next day and get her medication when another pharmacist was on duty.
"It's really between my husband and I, and our family planning choices, and my doctor," said Koestner. "It's really strange to have a stranger judge me. I see it as a privacy issue."
Koestner said the pharmacist did not try to make other accommodations for her to pick up the birth control pills.
"He could have called another pharmacist or tried to make other arrangements, so I could have my prescription and he could still abide by his religious beliefs," said Koestner.
Koestner said she was fortunate to have another Walgreens store in Albuquerque to get her medication that night, but she said many other New Mexicans in smaller cities may not have had that option.
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees. The ACLU and the Southwest Women's Law Center sent a letter to the Walgreens and started an online petition. ACLU attorney Alexandra Smith said what happened to Koestner is gender discrimination.
"No one would have any issue of walking into a Walgreens and purchasing condoms," said Smith. "But in this situation, when a woman tried to purchase a birth control method used by women, she was unable to fill that prescription."
But some attorneys call Koestner and the ACLU's argument "hypocritical."
Matt Bowman with the Alliance Defense Fund said women have their rights, but pharmacists also have the right to religious freedom.
"One person's right to do something doesn't mean they can force other people to help when it violates the other people's faith," said Bowman. "Protecting the right of a health care professional's conscience is part of the right of religious freedom because representing the right of conscience isn't stopping anyone from getting drugs. They can go elsewhere."
A corporate spokesman for Walgreens sent News 13 a statement, "We do allow pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription to which they have a moral objection, our policy also requires the pharmacist to refer the prescription to another pharmacist on duty who can fill the prescription. If another pharmacist isn't available, our store management must be notified so that we can make arrangements to have the prescription filled at a nearby pharmacy or picked up when another pharmacist is on duty."
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