Trial begins in lawsuit for Minnesota woman denied morning-after pill by pharmacy
A mother from McGregor, Minnesota, sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act in 2019 after a pharmacist at a Thrifty White Pharmacy, the only pharmacy in the town, said he couldn’t fill her prescription for the “morning after pill” Ella because of his religious beliefs.
AITKIN, Minn. — A trial this week could determine whether a pharmacist violated a Minnesota woman’s human rights when he declined to fill her prescription for emergency contraceptives.
Andrea Anderson, a mother from McGregor, Minnesota, sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act in 2019 after a pharmacist at a Thrifty White Pharmacy, the only pharmacy in the town, said he couldn’t fill her prescription for the “morning after pill” Ella because of his religious beliefs.
After a pharmacy 20 miles away in Aitkin said it could not provide her the prescription, Anderson had to make a 100-mile round trip to Brainerd during a January snowstorm to obtain the drug, according to the lawsuit filed in Aitkin County District Court. She spent more than 3 hours on the road in winter conditions with her then 2-year-old child.
After her experience with the pharmacy in McGregor, Anderson felt she could no longer trust the pharmacy in her town and now fills her prescriptions in Aitkin and Brainerd, significantly increasing how far she must travel to get medication, the lawsuit said.
The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday, Aug. 2, in Aitkin County District Court, where jury selection started Monday. Judge David F. Hermerding is presiding over the case. Jurors will have the final say on whether the pharmacist violated state human rights law, which protects against discrimination based on sex — which is defined to include pregnancy, childbirth, and other related conditions.
In a past statement on the case, Gender Justice, a Minnesota legal advocacy nonprofit representing Anderson, said no one should be denied medical care due to the beliefs of their health care providers.
“Pharmacists, like any health care provider, have a legal and ethical duty to provide their patients the care they need,” the nonprofit said. “In this regard, Andrea was failed at every turn, and we intend to ensure that others don’t have to jump the same ridiculous hurdles she did.”
The pharmacist at the Thrifty White location in McGregor, George Badeaux, a pastor at a local church, said he objects to the drug Ella as it can prevent an embryo from implanting in the wall of the uterus, according to court documents. In a deposition, he said he had refused to provide emergency contraceptives on three other occasions.
Emergency contraceptives such as Ella and Plan B are not considered abortion drugs by the Food and Drug Administration and work by preventing ovulation. Badeaux’s defense will not be allowed to use terms like abortion during the trial.
While Badeaux said he declined to fill Anderson's prescription for religious reasons, he will not be permitted to present a religious freedom argument and frame his defense in terms of constitutional rights, according to court documents filed ahead of the trial.
Hermerding wrote that the trial's focus must remain on whether Badeaux discriminated against Anderson based on sex. However, Badeaux will be able to explain his religious beliefs on the drug Ella.