Cincinnati, OH -- The American Center for Law and Justice, an international pro-life public interest law firm, said today a federal court has cleared the way for its lawsuit against Kmart on behalf of a pharmacist who was fired for refusing to dispense abortion producing drugs to move forward.
A federal judge in the case refused to dismiss the suit and said that a pharmacist may sue her employer under a state conscience law which protects persons who refuse to perform or participate in medical procedures which result in abortion.
"This is a major victory for the rights of conscience," said Francis J. Manion, Senior Counsel for the ACLJ who is suing Kmart on behalf of a pharmacist. "As long as abortion is legal in this country, there will be millions of citizens opposed to the practice on ethical and religious grounds. These people deserve legal protection to the fullest extent possible. No one should be forced to choose between their livelihood and their conscience. We look forward to moving forward with our case and the upcoming trial on this most critical issue."
The case began in 1996 when Kmart fired Karen Brauer, an Indiana pharmacist, after she refused to dispense a drug called Micronor. Micronor, a progestin-only contraceptive, works in a significant number of patients by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg. According to Brauer, this means Micronor and similar drugs, rather than preventing pregnancy, terminate a human life that has already begun. Brauer was fired from Kmart's Hamilton, Ohio store when she refused to sign an agreement that she would dispense all lawfully prescribed medications regardless of her feelings or beliefs. The ACLJ filed suit against Kmart in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati in August 1999.
Kmart went to court in an effort to dismiss the suit. But in an opinion issued yesterday and released to the ACLJ today, U.S. District Court Judge Herman Weber disagreed with Kmart's narrow reading of the state conscience statute ruling the statute "is obviously intended to allow an individual who morally or ethically opposes abortion ... to follow the dictates of her conscience and refuse to participate in such procedures." The court likewise rejected Kmart's arguments that the legislature did not intend the conscience law to apply to the dispensing of a drug that sometimes prevents implantation. Judge Weber said: "What is critical ... is the undisputed fact that Micronor does prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in some cases and plaintiff's asserted belief that this process results in abortion and is morally wrong."
Manion says the court's decision is an important step in protecting the rights of employees who hold religious beliefs. "This case has enormous implications for the growing practice of chemical or drug-induced abortions. So-called `emergency contraceptives', `morning-after pills,' and RU-486 all work - not by preventing pregnancy - but by ending a human life already in existence. With the court's recognition of a pharmacist's statutory exemption from participating in such procedures, pharmacists and others have gained the ability to protect themselves against recrimination for following the dictates of their consciences."
Manion said the court's ruling now clears the way for trial to begin in May. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Kmart and alleges that her firing violated both federal and state laws. At the same time, the suit contends that as a result of Brauer's termination, she "has sustained and continues to sustain substantial losses in earnings, retirement benefits, and other employment benefits, and has suffered and continues to suffer damage with regard to her professional standing."