The reputation of a pharmacist working at a Walgreens pharmacy in Peoria, Arizona, has been publicly smeared after he refused to fill a patient’s prescription for the abortion-inducing medication Misoprostol on conscience grounds. According to Nicole Arteaga, she doesn’t want any other woman to have to experience difficulties with pharmacists refusing to fill a similar prescription. KVOA Tucson states that “Arteaga was crushed when her doctor told her a miscarriage was inevitable” and gave her the choice of the Misoprostol medication or a D&C procedure. According to the UK Independent, at nine weeks, Arteaga was tragically told that her baby’s heartbeat had stopped and that she would soon miscarry her child.
But the Walgreens pharmacist, listed as Brian Hreniuc, had no way of knowing the reason why Arteaga was being prescribed a medication normally given as the second part of a medication abortion. And therefore, on conscience grounds, he refused to dispense the medication, instead sending her prescription to another Walgreens pharmacy, which filled it for her — a detail not included in Arteaga’s first, now-viral Facebook post, until a day later.
Arteaga, whose pregnancy was very much wanted, told KVOA, “I think what happened is wrong. I want everything to be healthy and I can’t control that. That’s not the way my body is working and it felt like I was being somewhat punished like I’m not going to give you this medicine even though you need it for your body.” Arteaga stated in her Facebook post that she felt “ashamed” and “humiliated” because of the situation, as quoted by the Independent: “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.”
While some online commenters to Arteaga’s post have speculated that the pharmacist may have broken HIPAA laws by discussing the situation with Arteaga, this is, again, only speculation. It is not clear at this time that this is the case, nor that Hreniuc ever asked for Arteaga’s personal medical circumstances with regard to the prescription. Walgreens has stated that it is looking into how the matter was handled.
Arteaga wrote in her post, “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 am unsure where Walgreens draws the lines with their pharmacist but does this mean he denies women the right to birth control and morning after pill, and what’s the stance with fertility drugs.”
Put simply: no, Hreniuc cannot “deny women the right” to any such thing. However, he can decline to personally fill the prescription and refer it to another pharmacist, as Walgreens made clear in its statement to KVOA (emphasis added):
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.
Arteaga updated her post a day later, writing, “After I walked out of Walgreens Thursday night without my prescription I received email notification that my prescription was ready at location across town. Brian H. ultimately had it transferred to another location that had it in stock after I had left upset.”
Meanwhile, Arteaga states that she has filed complaints with Walgreens corporate and the Arizona Board of Pharmacy.
But according to KVOA, Arizona law is very clear in that it protects the conscience rights of medical professionals (emphasis added):
A pharmacy, hospital or health professional, or any employee of a pharmacy, hospital or health professional, who states in writing an objection to abortion, abortion medication, emergency contraception or any medication or device intended to inhibit or prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum on moral or religious grounds is not required to facilitate or participate in the provision of an abortion, abortion medication, emergency contraception or any medication or device intended to inhibit or prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum…
While Arteaga’s health situation is most tragic and painful, Hreniuc appears to have followed protocol. Yet he now faces harassment and potential job loss, as members of the public have contacted Walgreens demanding that he be fired for exercising his conscience rights as a medical professional.
Misoprostol is a medication that is part of the RU-486 abortion pill regimen, which consists of Mifepristone (which essentially starves a preborn child of nutrients) and Misoprostol (which causes the uterus to contract and expel the child). The process of such an abortion procedure is detailed in the video below, narrated by former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino: