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Fired pharmacist takes Kmart to court

By Cheryl Wetzstein

An Ohio pharmacist fired by Kmart in 1996 for refusing to dispense birth-control pills Thursday sued the company for damages.

"Both federal and state law make it illegal to fire a person because of their religion," said Francis J. Manion, a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which filed the suit.

"Kmart violated those laws when they fired our client because she refused to abandon her religious beliefs."

Karen Brauer, the plaintiff, is Catholic and believes that the birth-control pill Micronor has a "major abortifacient mechanism," said Mr. Manion.

Mrs. Brauer told Kmart when she was hired in 1989 that she would not dispense these kinds of drugs due to these beliefs, he said.

But in 1996, when she refused to fill a prescription for Micronor, Kmart officials asked her to sign a document agreeing to dispense all legally prescribed medications regardless of her beliefs.

"When she wrote on there that her conscience would not allow her to do that, she was fired," Mr. Manion said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Kmart has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. Company officials in Troy, Mich., could not be reached for comment.

The American Pharmaceutical Association last year acknowledged the "individual pharmacist's right to exercise conscientious refusal" to dispense certain drugs. The trade group also "supports the establishment of systems to ensure patient access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist's right of conscientious refusal."

"We want to address this before the patient walks through the door," APhA spokeswoman Susan Winckler said Thursday.

Micronor is a progestin-only birth-control pill made by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals in Raritan, N.J.

Ortho-McNeil advertises Micronor only for birth control.

However, birth-control pills have long been used "off-label" as emergency contraception, said Maureen Baxter, an official with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

Emergency contraception is a technique in which a woman takes multiple birth-control pills within hours or days of unprotected sexual intercourse. The pills, which must be prescribed, prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

Progestin-only birth-control pills have mild side effects and are highly effective, said Ms. Baxter, who noted that on July 29, the Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B, the first progestin-only emergency contraceptive kit.