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Walgreens pharmacist denies pregnant woman miscarriage medication over his ethical beliefs

An Arizona woman says a Walgreens pharmacist denied her prescription medication during one of the toughest moments of her life.

Nicole Arteaga was looking forward to the birth of her second child.

Already a mom to a 7-year-old son, Arteaga, 35, was nine weeks pregnant when her doctor delivered the worst news she could hear. Her unborn baby had stopped growing and had no fetal heartbeat.

She would have a miscarriage.

The doctor gave Arteaga three options: undergo a medical procedure to remove the lifeless fetus, wait for nature to take its course or take prescription medication to help her body let go of the deceased unborn baby.

After a day of thinking, she opted to take the medication. The drug, Misoprostol, causes a woman's uterus to contract and allows the fetus to come out.

Arteaga, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, received an email Wednesday evening, saying her Misoprostol was ready for pickup at her local Walgreens. But, when she went to pick it up Thursday night, the pharmacist on duty refused to give her the drug.

She stood, humiliated, as the pharmacist said he would not give her the prescription because of his own ethical beliefs. Her 7-year-old son and a group of other customers were all listening.

“He had it in his hand and refrained from giving it to me," Arteaga explained. "...I was completely shocked. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

Arteaga said she left Walgreens in tears.

"Having a miscarriage and having to deal with this is like a double dose of terribleness," she said.

The pharmacist arranged for her to pick up the Misoprostol the next day at another Walgreens located 20-minutes away.

James W. Graham, senior manager of media relations for the pharmacy chain, confirmed what happened and issued a statement on behalf of Walgreens.

"After learning what happened, we reached out to the patient and apologized for how the situation was handled. To respect the sincerely held beliefs of our pharmacists while at the same time meeting the needs of our patients, our policy allows pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection. At the same time, they are also required to refer the prescription to another pharmacist or manager on duty to meet the patient's needs in a timely manner. We are looking into the matter to ensure that our patients' needs are handled properly."

But, Arteaga said the corporate statement wasn't entirely true. According to her, Walgreens didn't reach out to her. Arteaga said she reached out to them.

And, if the policy calls for another pharmacist or manager on duty to help in a situation like hers, Arteaga said there were other workers available who should have processed the transaction. According to her, there were two other employees in the pharmacy at the time -- both of whom were assisting other customers. And, even if they refused too, she said there was surely a manager at the store to help.

“I was not given the option to have someone else in that store give me the prescription," Arteaga said. "...Those guidelines were broken.”

Arteaga filed a complaint with the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy. And, she wants a law in place that would require pharmacies to fill prescriptions approved by doctors. Currently, Arizona law allows pharmacies to refuse to process prescriptions for religious or moral reasons. Pharmacists aren't legally obligated to refer customers to another pharmacy. Although, companies like Walgreens have adopted their own policies for employees.

Despite all the trouble, Arteaga said she was thankful for all the support she has received after sharing her story on social media. She said multiple other women have since shared similar pharmacy experiences.

“It was a difficult situation. And, looking back at those comments, it’s nice to know that people understand the situation and what I’m going through," Arteaga said.

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