updated 2/12/2004 1:29:33 PM ET 2004-02-12T18:29:33

Eckerd Corp. has fired three pharmacists who declined to fill an emergency contraception prescription for a woman who had been raped, one of the pharmacists said Wednesday.

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Gene Herr said he and two co-workers were fired Jan. 29, six days after refusing to fill the prescription. He said his own refusal was based on religious grounds.

Eckerd has declined to comment on their employment status. Joan Gallagher, the vice president of communications for Largo, Fla.-based Eckerd would say only that the company has taken appropriate disciplinary action.

Herr, 33, of Denton, said he declined to fill the prescription for the so-called “morning-after pill” because he believes it could have killed the embryo if the woman already had conceived. Though he had declined five or six times in the past to fill such prescriptions, it was the first time he had been handed one for a rape victim, he said.

“I went in the back room and briefly prayed about it,” said Herr, who had worked for Eckerd for five years. “I actually called my pastor ... and asked him what he thought about it.”

The two other pharmacists who were present also declined to fill the prescription. Herr would not name them.

The rape victim had the prescription filled at a nearby pharmacy.

Gallagher said Eckerd’s employment manual says pharmacists are not allowed to opt out of filling a prescription for religious, moral or ethical reasons.

Herr said he did not know about that policy until his supervisors questioned him about it shortly before he was fired.

“In my mind if I agree to work for someone knowing that that’s their policy, then I should submit to that policy. But I didn’t even know about it,” he said.

Morning-after pills are higher doses of the hormones in regular birth control pills and have been sold under the brand names Plan B and Preven since 1998. Taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, the pills are at least 75 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

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