An Aitkin County jury found Friday that a pharmacist who declined to fill a birth control prescription because of his religious beliefs did not commit sex discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
The case is believed to be the first in the nation to be brought to trial based on a claim of sex discrimination for refusing to dispense birth control.
However, the jury ordered pharmacist George Badeaux to pay Andrea Anderson of McGregor, Minn., $25,000 for emotional harm she suffered when he declined to fill her prescription for a morning-after pill in January 2019.
And the case may not be over. Gender Justice, the St. Paul advocacy group that provided legal representation to Anderson, said it will file a motion asking the judge to overturn the verdict, something that's allowed in civil cases. If that motion fails, the group said it plans to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The six-person jury deliberated for more than 20 hours Thursday and Friday before delivering its verdict.
"We are incredibly happy with the jury's decision. Medical professionals should be free to practice their profession in line with their beliefs," said Charles Shreffler, Badeaux's attorney.
"Mr. Badeaux is unable to participate in any procedure that requires him to dispense drugs that have the potential to end human life in the womb. Every American should have the freedom to operate according to their ethical and religious beliefs."
Badeaux testified that he believes the morning-after pill sought by Anderson, a drug called Ella, has the potential to change a woman's uterine lining and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. In his view, that would end a life, he testified.
Anderson's attorneys presented expert testimony that Ella works by delaying ovulation when taken after unprotected intercourse. The expert called Badeaux's interpretation "speculative and hypothetical."
The issue of contraception has moved to the center of the national political debate, with the U.S. House of Representatives last week passing a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception under federal law.
Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice, praised the jury for its service but said the "undisputed facts" of the case clearly showed that Anderson was discriminated against because of her sex.
"To be clear, the law in Minnesota prohibits sex discrimination, and that includes refusing to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception," Braverman said. "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."
Aitkin Pharmacy Services, which owned the Thrifty White drugstore where Badeaux was pharmacist-in-chief, was found not liable by the jury. The drugstore is no longer affiliated with Thrifty White and now operates as McGregor Pharmacy.
The case was brought under the Minnesota's Human Rights Act, which prohibits a range of discrimination, including sex discrimination. Importantly for this case, "sex" is defined under the law to include issues relating to pregnancy and childbirth.
After Badeaux declined to fill Anderson's prescription, he offered to send it to a pharmacy in Brainerd, a round trip of more than 100 miles. Anderson, angry at his refusal, declined and had the prescription transferred herself, then made the trip to Brainerd in wintry weather.
In a statement, Anderson said she pursued the case to help other women who may face the same situation.
"Not everyone has the means or ability to drive hundreds of miles to get a prescription filled," she said. "I can only hope that by coming forward and pursuing justice that others don't have to jump the ridiculous hurdles I did."