Conscience protections have long been a hallmark of American law—including protections for pro-life Americans who cannot in good conscience participate in an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that health-care professionals should not be forced to perform acts that violate their conscience.
The Court reaffirmed the freedom of conscience in 2020 when it ruled that pro-life nuns could not be forced to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health-care plans.
Despite these rulings, rights of conscience are still under threat in some quarters. One pharmacist in Minnesota found that out the hard way when he stood by his conscience and declined to fill a prescription for “emergency contraception.”
A reliable pharmacist
George Badeaux has worked as a licensed pharmacist for over 40 years. From 2014-2019, he served at Aitkin Pharmacy in Minnesota. For most of the time he was at Aitkin, George served as the head pharmacist.
George is a devout Christian who seeks to glorify God in everything he does. His faith teaches him that every life is precious to God, begins at the moment of conception, and is worthy of protection. For this reason, George cannot dispense drugs that may end human life, including “emergency contraception.”
According to guidance from the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, pharmacists have the right to personally object to dispensing “emergency contraception.” Pharmacists who do object should have “alternatives … immediately available” so that customers may have “the prescription filled by another staff person at the pharmacy or by another pharmacy.” George was prepared with both of those solutions when Aitkin received an order for a form of “emergency contraception” called ella in January 2019.
An angry customer
The order for ella came on behalf of a woman who lived near Aitkin. She contacted her doctor about getting the “morning after” pill, and a nurse sent a prescription for ella to Aitkin because it was her usual pharmacy.
George was not familiar with ella, but when he looked it up, he found that it works by either delaying or preventing the release of an egg, or by inhibiting a fertilized egg’s implantation in the uterus. The second method violates George’s beliefs because it terminates a human life.
Aitkin, like most pharmacies, did not keep ella in stock. The drug was supposed to arrive the next day, when both George and another pharmacist were scheduled to work.
George knew the other pharmacist did not have an objection to dispensing “emergency contraception,” and he was happy to refer the prescription to that pharmacist. However, since the weather forecast included a major snow storm and the pharmacist lived an hour or more away from Aitkin, George knew there was a chance that he would not be able to get to work.
Because he did not want to “get in the way of [the customer’s] prescription getting dispensed,” George called her to explain the situation. He told the woman that her prescription would be delivered the next day, and he explained that while the other pharmacist could dispense it, there was a chance the weather would prevent him from getting to Aitkin.
George also explained that he could help the woman transfer her prescription to another pharmacy, and he even recommended the closest CVS. But the woman became angry, shouted an expletive at him, apologized, and hung up. She briefly called back to get George’s name and declared that she was going to “do something about this.”
The woman contacted multiple pro-abortion activist groups, and she even called George’s boss to complain. She also chose to transfer her prescription. The CVS that George suggested did not fill it, so she transferred her prescription to the closest Walgreens.
Even though George immediately fulfilled her transfer request, the woman was still determined to sue. Ten months after she successfully received and took ella, she filed suit against George and Aitkin Pharmacy in the Aitkin County District Court. She claimed that they had discriminated against and refused to do business with her based on her sex.
After a five-day trial, a jury ruled that neither George nor the pharmacy had discriminated against or refused to serve the woman because of her sex. The woman asked the district court to disregard the jury's verdict and rule for her or grant a new trial, which the court denied. She then appealed those denials to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where ADF attorneys are now defending George.
While the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s definition of sex includes “pregnancy” and “childbirth,” that was never the issue for George. He did “not want to participate in anything that might cause a fertilized egg to die.” The woman’s claim of sex discrimination falls flat, and the appellate court should reject it.
- December 2019: A woman filed a lawsuit against George Badeaux and Aitkin Pharmacy after she chose to transfer her prescription for ella to another pharmacy.
- August 2022: A jury ruled that neither George nor Aitkin Pharmacy had unlawfully discriminated against the woman. The woman appealed the ruling.
- December 2023: ADF attorneys presented oral arguments in the case before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.