Sens. Durbin and Duckworth ask Walgreens CEO to revisit pharmacy beliefs policy

Sara Edwards

Democratic Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have sent Illinois-based Walgreens a letter asking  for the revision of its nationwide policy regarding pharmacists' religious objections when fulfilling prescriptions.

In the letter, the senators have asked Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer to ensure that customers' privacy is respected and that customers have a clear notice of whether they will have full access to contraceptives at Walgreens stores.

"Your policy seemingly does not expressly respect the religious and moral beliefs of your customers who wish to buy legal drugs and contraceptives," the senators wrote.

Walgreens has come under fire after customer claims that pharmacists were denying birth control prescriptions and refusing to sell condoms went viral on social media. Its policy states that pharmacists can deny prescriptions if they have a religious or moral objection. USA TODAY reporting found that CVS has a similar policy.

"We have policies in place to ensure no patient is ever denied access to medication prescribed by a physician based on a pharmacy staff member’s individual beliefs," CVS spokesperson Amy Thibault said in a statement. "Under federal law, we must reasonably accommodate a religious conviction, and in certain states a moral or ethical conviction, that may prevent a pharmacist or pharmacy technician from dispensing specific medications."

What you can do:If CVS, the largest U.S. pharmacy, refuses to fill your birth control, here's what to know

The senators also wrote that the overturning of Roe v. Wade has taken away Americans' constitutional right to reproductive health choices and led some states to limit access to different forms of contraception. 

"Such limitations are compounded by Walgreens' policy, which can come at the expense of your customers' right to privacy," they said. "Despite (Walgreens') policy's requirement that a customer's needs be met in a 'timely manner' even if a pharmacist has a moral objection, your policy reportedly has delayed timely access to medication."

Durbin brought the issue to the Senate floor Wednesday, asking Congress to pass the Right to Contraception Act that Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Patty Murray, D-Wash.,  Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and and Duckworth put to vote on Wednesday.

The bill would protect the right to contraception, which was first recognized by the Supreme Court in 1965.

The legislation was blocked by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.

"A pharmacist should not be able to unilaterally decide that their personal, moral, or religious beliefs can delay or interfere with the medical needs of a patient standing at the cash register by a legal medication," Durbin said.

Durbin said that if Walgreens is going to allow individual pharmacists and employees to dictate what legal medical products customers can purchase, the company should make the policy known to the public with ample signage throughout the store. 

"A woman's right to essential health care should not differ based on which pharmacy she chooses who fills her prescription or who rings it up," he said.

Walgreens senior director of external relations Fraser Engerman said in a statement that instances of pharmacists denying contraception because of personal or religious beliefs are rare, and policies are designed to meet the needs of Walgreens' patients and customers while respecting the beliefs of its employees.

"In the instance a team member has a religious or moral conviction that prevents them from meeting a customer need, we require them to refer the customer to another employee or manager on duty who can complete the transaction," he said in a statement.

Durbin said Wednesday that politicians and pharmacists had no business standing between a woman and health care. 

"Pharmacies like Walgreens are allowing their employees to dictate what health care products consumers are able to purchase," he said.