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ACLU NM: Walgreens affirms birth control policy

Russell Contreras, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Walgreen Co. won't allow individual pharmacists' personal religious beliefs to prevent customers from filling birth control prescriptions, two New Mexico advocacy groups have announced.

The Deerfield, Ill.-based company told the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southwest Women's Law Center that the company will take steps nationwide to make sure customers received prescriptions regardless of employees' beliefs, ACLU of New Mexico said in a statement this week.

The announcement comes after an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacist last year refused to fill the birth control prescriptions for two women due to his religious beliefs. The ACLU said that Walgreens pharmacists in Georgia and Alabama last year also refused to sell men emergency contraception.

One of the women, Susanne Koestner, said an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacist refused to fill her prescription for Mononessa, a common birth control pill, citing his religious beliefs. Koestner later filled the prescription at another Albuquerque Walgreens.

In a statement, Walgreens said its company policy is to fill all prescriptions, including birth control medications. "Having said that, we must recognize that there may exist pharmacists who object to filling certain prescriptions based on their religious, moral or ethical beliefs," the company said. "To balance the needs of our pharmacists and our customers, Walgreens has developed appropriate policies and procedures for our pharmacies to assure that these prescriptions, for example, birth control, are handled as efficiently as other prescriptions without imposing any burden on the customer."

The company will provide training to store personnel to ensure they understand of the policy, Walgreens said.

Michael Polzin, a spokesman for the Illinois-based company, told The Associated Press that Walgreens is reiterating to employees the company's current policies and will work to clarify its current policies with pharmacists.

The advocacy groups said Tuesday that they were satisfied with the company's assurances.

"We applaud Walgreen Co. for their good faith efforts to ensure that women are not refused medication because of an individual employee's religious beliefs," said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. "Individual pharmacists certainly have a protected right to exercise their religious beliefs, but those beliefs cannot cause a company to discriminate against its customers."


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