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Walgreens pharmacist denies woman miscarriage medication because it goes against his ethics

Nicole Arteaga says a pharmacist in Peoria, Ariz., refused to fill her prescription for miscarriage inducing medication on June 22. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

When Nicole Arteaga discovered she had had a miscarriage, she wanted to put the experience behind her as quickly as possible. The Arizona woman had three options: Let the fetus come out naturally, endure a procedure at a hospital or take a pill to induce the process. She choose the last option.

Arteaga was stunned on Friday, however, when a Walgreens pharmacist declined to sell her the prescription for Misoprostol, citing his personal ethics. The drugstore chain said in a statement that the employee had acted within company guidelines and Arizona law.

Arteaga told The Washington Post that she discreetly tried to explain her situation at the pharmacy counter: She wanted to be pregnant but had suffered a miscarriage. The fetus no longer had a heartbeat and it needed to come out of her body.

Still, pharmacist Brian Hreniuc would not budge, according to Arteaga’s account. Hreniuc did not respond to requests for comment, and a Walgreens spokesman said the pharmacist is not speaking with reporters.

Hreniuc told the 35-year-old mother she had two options: Come back to the pharmacy when he was not working or allow him to send the prescription to another Walgreens nearby, Arteaga said. She chose the latter, stepped away to call her husband and began to cry.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Arteaga told The Washington Post by phone. “[I was] left feeling helpless because I felt there was nothing I could do and I had no control over my body,” she said. “I don’t have control over my body not being able to support having a healthy baby. I can’t help . . . what has happened inside of me.”

Arizona is one of six states that allows pharmacists to legally decline to sell emergency contraceptives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Arteaga got her prescription filled and decided to post her story on Facebook because she wanted “to do something good for women” and did not “want this to happen to somebody else.”

“To meet the health-care needs of our patients while respecting the sincerely held beliefs of our pharmacists, our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection,” Walgreens said in a statement issued after the post went viral, noting that the pharmacist is supposed to “refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient’s needs in a timely manner.”

Walgreens later on Monday clarified its statement to emphasize that it would “provide additional training to all of our pharmacists on appropriately handling these situations in accordance with our policy,” as suggested by Arteaga.

Reactions on social media were swift. One person left the Peoria store a one-star review on Yelp, writing that “the fact that Walgreens would employ someone like this that cannot put their beliefs aside for the HEALTHCARE of another human being is deplorable.”

“Given what the pharmacist knew, I absolutely think he did the right thing,” another reviewer wrote, giving the store a five-star review on Facebook. “I applaud this pharmacist and am glad Walgreens protects his conscience rights and wish more pharmacists would have the courage to stand for their convictions, especially if a life is at risk.” 

Still, others drew parallels between Arteaga and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was asked Friday to leave a restaurant in rural Virginia because of her affiliation with President Trump’s administration.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post said that a Walgreens statement said Hreniuc acted within the company guidelines. Walgreens said that its policy allows pharmacists to morally object, but it would look into whether the pharmacist fully complied with guidelines.

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