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Nurse practitioner says CVS fired her for refusing to give abortion drugs

Paige Casey says the company accommodated her Catholic beliefs, which include opposition to the morning after pill, for years, then changed course

Paige Casey, a nurse practitioner who worked for a MinuteClinic in Alexandria, Va., alleges in a lawsuit that she was fired for refusing on religious grounds to prescribe certain contraceptives or drugs that cause abortion. (Alliance Defending Freedom)

This story has been clarified and updated to include additional information about the medical use of Ella and Plan B as well as Catholic doctrine on abortion.

A former nurse practitioner who worked at an Alexandria, Va., MinuteClinic is suing CVS Health, alleging that the company fired her because she refused on religious grounds to give certain contraceptives or “abortion-causing” drugs.

Attorneys for Paige Casey said in a lawsuit filed in Prince William County Circuit Court that CVS, which owns MinuteClinic, exempted the nurse for more than 2½ years from prescribing certain contraceptive drugs or devices that cause an abortion. It specifically cited Plan B and Ella, which are commonly referred to as morning-after pills. Casey was granted the accommodation after she wrote a request to the company stating her Catholic beliefs, the lawsuit said.

That changed in August 2021, when the Rhode Island-based company announced that its employees could no longer avoid prescribing abortion-inducing drugs and other forms of birth control, the lawsuit said.

“We are entering some dangerous territory if corporations can fire someone for exercising their religious beliefs,” said Denise Harle, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian, conservative legal group representing Casey in the case. “Tolerance goes two ways.”

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Plan B and Ella are the only two drugs mentioned by name in the lawsuit. They stop pregnancy by preventing ovulation or the implanting of a fertilized egg, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which classifies both drugs as “emergency contraception” and says neither drug can terminate “an existing pregnancy.”

Catholic teaching says, however, that life begins at conception when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Human Life in 2010 wrote that any drug that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, “is really nothing other than a chemically induced abortion.”

The lawsuit spells out Casey’s interactions with her supervisors after CVS announced it would no longer let its employees avoid prescribing the drugs: Casey, who primarily worked at a MinuteClinic in Alexandria since 2018, again asked for accommodation for her religious beliefs in December. In January and March, company officials reiterated they would no longer accommodate her request.

CVS fired Casey, effective April 1, after she repeatedly told her supervisors that she could not prescribe “abortion-causing” drugs, according to the lawsuit.

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CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in a statement that employees can submit requests to the company on the basis of their religious beliefs. But employees cannot be exempt from aiding pregnancy prevention and safe sex practices, he said.

“We cannot grant exemptions from these essential MinuteClinic functions,” he said.

Virginia law protects people from being required to participate in procedures that result in abortions when they object on the basis of moral, ethical or religious beliefs. The law does not explicitly mention hormonal contraceptives.

Abortion rights advocates fear access to birth control could be curtailed

Harle said no case law indicates whether distribution of such drugs is protected under the provision, although she said that judging by how the provision is written, she believed Casey’s lawsuit made a “straightforward claim.”

This week’s filing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that made abortion a constitutional right in the United States. Since the ruling in June, 15 states either have banned or mostly have banned abortion, and an Indiana ban is to take effect this month. Some abortion rights advocates say lawmakers also could curb people’s access to birth control.

Youngkin to seek 15-week abortion law in Virginia after Supreme Court ruling

In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said in June that he would seek a 15-week abortion ban. Neither abortion nor contraceptives are illegal in the state.

Casey was planning to file the suit before Roe was overturned, regardless of the court’s decision, Harle said.

“If anything, the overturning of Roe slowed this case down just because [Alliance Defending Freedom] has been so busy,” she said.

An Alliance Defending Freedom spokeswoman said Casey was unavailable to comment on the lawsuit.

Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.