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Robertson group sues over contraception-dispensing law

In federal court, claims it violates druggists' rights

ST. LOUIS -- A group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson is suing to stop Illinois from requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, saying the rule violates a druggist's right to refuse on religious and moral grounds.

The Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice filed the lawsuit Monday in US District Court in Springfield, Ill.

The lawsuit, mirroring some claims in state lawsuits challenging the rule, names Governor Rod Blagojevich and the heads of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and its Division of Professional Regulation as defendants.

The Illinois rule, the first of its kind in the nation, requires pharmacies that sell federally approved contraceptives to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control ''without delay" if they have the medication in stock.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, imposed the rule in April, and it has been permanent since August.

The rule says that if the contraceptive is not in stock, the pharmacy must order it or transfer the prescription to another pharmacy of the patient's choice.

If a pharmacist won't fill the prescription because of a moral objection, another pharmacist must be available there to fill it.

The lawsuit represents five pharmacists indefinitely suspended by Walgreen Co. for refusing on religious or moral grounds to dispense the drugs.

The suit also represents two pharmacists who are worried they may face similar disciplinary action.

Walgreen has said it had no choice but to follow the law.

Abby Ottenhoff, a Blagojevich spokeswoman, called the rule ''a clear and common-sense way to ensure that women have access to the medication their doctors prescribe."

''If a pharmacist objects [to the rule], he or she is free to work in a pharmacy that doesn't stock and dispense" emergency contraception, she said.

The American Center for Law and Justice also filed a complaint last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Walgreen of religious discrimination by ''effectively firing" three St. Louis-area pharmacists it disciplined.

The three also are among the seven represented in the federal lawsuit.

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