After miscarrying at around five weeks of pregnancy, a Milledgeville, Georgia resident named Brittany Cartrett got a standard prescription of from her doctor. The drug, which can also be used to induce abortions, was necessary to help Cartrett pass the contents of her uterus safely by causing contractions.
“We made the decision to not do a D&C [dilation and curettage, a procedure to remove tissue from inside the uterus] and to get a medicine,” Cartrett told local news station WGXA. “So he said I’m going to give you this medicine, you’ll take it, and it will help you to pass [the miscarriage] naturally so that you don’t have to go the more invasive route.”
But the tragic situation got even more upsetting when the pharmacist at Milledgeville Walmart refused to fill Cartrett’s prescription.
In Georgia, a so-called “conscience clause” protects pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for religious reasons. (The Walmart pharmacist that Cartrett visited may have wrongly assumed she was getting the Misoprostol prescription for an abortion, not for the aftermath of a miscarriage.) Georgia’s law, as defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures, says:
Georgia Admin. Code § 480-5-.03 provides that a pharmacist shall not be required to fill a prescription for an emergency contraceptive drug; provides that such refusal shall not be the basis for any claim for damages; provides for the duration of the effectiveness of the written objection …
The American Bar Association notes that pharmacists in states with “conscience clauses,” including Georgia, are protected from filling any prescriptions that they consider to be “abortofacients,” or medication causing abortion, and that sometimes birth control is even included under this category (despite the fact birth control prevents pregnancy).
Cartrett eventually had her Misoprostol prescription filled elsewhere, after going through the effort to find a different pharmacy. Since she shared her story with the media, Cartrett said she has heard from women who have had to visit up to five different pharmacies to obtain medication based on a pharamcist’s refusal.
Some states like Wisconsin have an addendum to the law: when one pharmacists refuse, the pharmacy can call in another to fill the prescription. Georgia has no such policy. A Walmart spokesperson told WGXA news:
“Our pharmacists fill prescriptions on a case by case basis every day in our stores throughout the country and we encourage them to exercise their professional judgment in doing so.”
You can read the Guttmacher Institute’s list of states with conscience clauses for various health care providers here.