When a doctor told Nicole Arteaga that the 9-week old fetus she was carrying had stopped developing and had died, he also told her that she had two options. Her doctor told her that she could have a surgical procedure to remove the fetal tissue from her uterus or she could take misoprostol, a medication typically used to end lost pregnancies. Either way, despite having eagerly anticipated a healthy pregnancy that would contrast to a previous one which had also ended in a miscarriage, the doctor emphasized that her most recent pregnancy was not going to be successfully carried to term.
Faced with the devastating news, Arteaga opted against surgery and agreed to her physician’s offer to write her a prescription for the misoprostol. Still, despite her urgent situation, when Arteaga showed up to a Walgreens to have her prescription filled, the pharmacist behind the counter refused to fill her order because of “ethical beliefs.”
The incident has sparked a trending Twitter dispute.
Terminating a dead pregnancy wasn’t a part of Arteaga’s plan when she first became pregnant.
This post isn’t something I generally do, but last night I experienced something no women should ever have to go thru…
In a post to her Facebook page, the Arizona-based teacher described how she had taken steps to ensure the success of her pregnancy after her previous one resulted in a miscarriage. “After a previous miscarriage, the doctor had been monitoring me weekly,” Arteaga wrote. “Unfortunately, on Tuesday we found out the baby’s development had stopped and I ultimate will have a miscarriage. Dr gave me two options D&C or prescription medication. I opted for medication.”
D&C, or dilation and curettage, refers to a procedure that involves dilating the cervix and surgically removing part of the lining of the uterus. For women faced with aborting a nonviable pregnancy both D&C or misoprostol are healthy and common options. Women who are forced to carry nonviable fetuses to term can run the serious risk of coagulation defect and catastrophic bleeding. The initial risks are low but do increase over time. For a woman carrying a fetus that has been dead 4 to 6 weeks the risks are especially severe. While Nicole Arteaga did update her FB status to reveal that she was ultimately able to receive her prescription from a Walgreens store that was 20 minutes away from the initial location, she was only 9 weeks into a 40 month gestation period. Meaning, her health would have undoubtedly been at risk if more pharmacists had refused her.
Since Arteaga first published her story on Facebook, her post has been shared over 61K times.
“I stood at the mercy of this pharmacist explaining my situation in front of my 7-year-old, and five customers standing behind only to be denied because of his ethical beliefs,” she wrote. “I left Walgreens in tears, ashamed and feeling humiliated by a man who knows nothing of my struggles but feels it is his right to deny medication prescribed to me by my doctor… I get it we all have our beliefs but what he failed to understand is this isn’t the situation I had hoped for, this isn’t something I wanted. This is something I have zero control over. He has no idea what it’s like to want nothing more than to carry a child to full term and be unable to do so.”
In an interview with FIERCE, Arteaga explained that she wants “there to be awareness for other women out there who might be in similar shoes, that this is something that can possibly happen, to be cautious and take steps to ensure you won’t have trouble picking up your medication. I do not want another person already dealing with the emotional stress of the miscarriage to be put in a situation where they feel helpless and out of control of their own body, like I did.”
On Saturday, Walgreens responded to the incident by stating that they had contacted Arteaga “and apologized for how the situation was handled.” They also reiterated their policy of allowing “pharmacists to step away from filling a prescription for which they have a moral objection.”
Still, many on Twitter are expressing their frustration over the situation and calling into question the pharmacist’s concern for his patient’s wellbeing.
It is not Walgreen's beliefs, it is State Law in Arizona and 6 other states. They are not permitted to ask about religious beliefs during an interview and the law allows the pharmacist to refuse to fill an Rx based on personal beliefs. It's the law, not Walgreen's
— Stephanie Barlow (@PuckerSjb) June 24, 2018
Arizona is one of six states in the United States that allow pharmacists to refuse to provide emergency contraception drugs. Arizona’s state law requires pharmacy employees to notify stores of what drugs they will refuse to fill because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Meanwhile, users on Twitter have critiqued the pharmacist for appearing to violate his Oath of A Pharmacist.
Exactly. What the hell is doing, working in a job that is against his sacred beliefs? His *SACRED* beliefs. And so legalistic, as if handing it off to someone else absolves him. Save your bus fare, dude! You still did it. You still expedited "a sin."
— Luminosity (@Lumi_nation) June 23, 2018
Like the Hippocratic oath that physicians make, pharmacists are required to make an oath that professes their effort to “consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering” their primary concerns as well as to “embrace and advocate changes that improve patient care.” Many on Twitter have argued that by refusing to set his own beliefs aside and care for a patient in need, the Walgreens pharmacist failed to comply with the oath’s terms and put Arteaga’s health at risk.
Others have questioned why a health care provider would take on a job where their own religious beliefs could get in the way.
Of course it isn’t about stopping an abortion, it is about humiliating a woman and exercising power over her. He doesn’t care what happens after that, it’s the exercise of authority that matters.
— Lloyd Waldo (@LloydWaldo) June 23, 2018
The debate over whether a company should allow a person’s religious beliefs to interfere with their work in such a way continues to rage on Twitter. Meanwhile, I would be interested in finding out the opinions of those who support Arizona’s state law about similar incidents where Muslim grocery store workers have refused to sell ham to customers because of their own religious beliefs.