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Minnesota pharmacist who refused to fill morning-after pill prescription did not discriminate, jury rules

But the jury said the mother of five, who was forced to make a 100-mile round trip to get the contraceptive, should be entitled to $25,000 for "emotional harm."

A Minnesota jury ruled Friday that a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for a morning-after pill because of his "beliefs" did not violate a woman's civil rights under state law but inflicted emotional harm and said she should be entitled to $25,000 in damages.

But the lawyer for pharmacist George Badeaux said Andrea Anderson is not likely to get a dime because the jury concluded she was not discriminated against because of her sex.

"We are incredibly happy with the jury's decision," attorney Charles Shreffler said in a statement. "Medical professionals should be free to practice their professions in line with their beliefs."

Anderson, who filed the civil lawsuit against pharmacist George Badeaux in 2019 after she was forced to make a 100-mile round trip to get the contraceptive, said she intends to appeal the jury verdict to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

"I can’t help but wonder about the other women who may be turned away," Anderson said in a statement. "What if they accept the pharmacist’s decision and don’t realize that this behavior is wrong? What if they have no other choice? Not everyone has the means or ability to drive hundreds of miles to get a prescription filled."

Anderson was represented by lawyers for Gender Justice, which is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“To be clear, the law in Minnesota prohibits sex discrimination and that includes refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception,” Gender Justice Legal Director Jess Braverman said. “The jury was not deciding what the law is, they were deciding the facts of what happened here in this particular case. We will appeal this decision and won’t stop fighting until Minnesotans can get the health care they need without the interference of providers putting their own personal beliefs ahead of their legal and ethical obligations to their patients.”

In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind case, Anderson filed the lawsuit against Badeaux and the pharmacy he works for three years ago under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

A mother of five, Anderson sought the morning-after pill Ella in January 2019 at the only pharmacy in her hometown, McGregor (population 391), after a condom broke during sex.

But Badeaux, who had been dispensing drugs from the McGregor Thrifty White pharmacy for four decades and is also a local preacher, refused to fill Anderson’s prescription, claiming it would violate his “beliefs,” according to the complaint.

“Badeaux informed her that there would be another pharmacist working the next day, who might be willing to fill the medication but that he could not guarantee that they would help,” the complaint stated.

Badeaux also warned Anderson against trying to get the prescription filled at a Shopko pharmacy in a nearby town and refused to tell her where else she could try, as required by state law, the complaint stated.

Another pharmacist at a CVS in the city of Aitkin also blocked Anderson from getting the prescription filled.

Anderson wound up driving for hours, “while a massive snowstorm was headed to central Minnesota,” to get the prescription filled at Walgreens in the city of Brainerd, according to the complaint.

During the trial, which was held in Aitkin County District Court, Badeaux insisted he "wasn’t seeking to interfere with what she wanted to do," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. "I was asking to be excused."

While Aitkin County District Judge David Hermerding, in a pretrial order, ruled that Badeaux’s religious rights are not the issue at stake in the case, the pharmacist spent the bulk of his time on the stand explaining the religious reasons why he has refused to fill contraception prescriptions for Anderson and three other customers during his career.

“I’m a Christian,” he said, according to the Star Tribune. “I believe in God. I love God. I try to live the way He would want me to live. That includes respecting every human being.”

The Badeaux trial, which began earlier this week, came as the once-dormant debate over contraception was rekindled by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — and by prominent lawmakers like Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., openly questioning the constitutionality of birth control. 

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House passed a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception under federal law.

Badeaux currently holds “an active license with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy,” agency spokeswoman Jill Phillips said in an email to NBC News before the verdict was announced.

Badeaux, in testimony, said he objected to dispensing Ella because it could possibly prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

“It’s my belief, based on lots of thinking and reading, that this [fertilized egg] is a new life,” Badeaux said. “If I do anything that prevents that egg from implanting in the uterus … the new life will cease to exist.”

But Ella doesn’t induce abortions. It is a prescription drug that prevents a woman from becoming pregnant when it is taken within five days of unprotected sex, according to the manufacturer.

CORRECTION (Aug. 5, 2022, 7:13 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when the U.S. House passed a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception under federal law. It was two weeks ago, not last week.