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Minnesota woman sues pharmacies for not selling emergency contraception

Andrea Anderson says her small-town pharmacist told her he was "uncomfortable" with filling her prescription.

Andrea Anderson says her small-town pharmacist told her he was "uncomfortable" with filling her prescription. Unsplash.com

In January of last year, Andrea Anderson of McGregor, Minnesota and her long-term romantic partner had what she calls “a little oops.”

“Our contraception failed,” she says.

She and her partner have been in a committed relationship for a long time, and they’re already raising a child together, but weren’t ready for another. For the first time in her life, Anderson called her doctor and asked about getting emergency contraception.

Once she got her prescription, she set out to get it filled at the only pharmacy in town: Thrifty White. (Tiny McGregor’s population came in just shy of 370 people in 2017.) After a quick call to make sure they had the medication on hand, she got an unexpected followup from the pharmacist on duty.

Anderson says the man on the line told her he wasn’t “comfortable” filling her prescription. At first, she thought maybe the pharmacist had concerns about the contraceptive interacting with her allergy or asthma medication. After a bit more probing, she realized it wasn’t anything like that. It was the drug itself that was the problem.

“So, what you’re saying is because of your religious beliefs, you’re not going to fill my prescription?” she asked. She says he repeated that he “wasn’t comfortable” and told her to try another pharmacy.

Annoyed, to put it mildly, Anderson called a CVS in Aitkin. The person on the other end of the line allegedly claimed their wholesaler didn’t carry the contraceptive pill—and that the Walgreens in nearby Brainerd couldn’t help her, either.

Anderson tried Walgreens anyway, and was relieved to learn they could get her the pill after all. Well, maybe.

“Their only concern was that it might be delayed because of the snowstorm,” she says.

Anderson climbed in her car with her 2-and-a-half-year-old and drove an hour out of her way, through blowing snow, to reach the Walgreens. The experience rattled her, and she started calling around, trying to figure out where and how to report the pharmacies that refused to help her.

Then she found Gender Justice. Today, the human rights nonprofit and Anderson are filing suit against the McGregor Thrifty White and the Aitkin CVS. (Neither the McGregor store owner nor CVS responded to interview requests.) Gender Justice legal director Jess Braverman says by refusing to sell to Anderson, the pharmacies violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

“It’s really important that people’s medical needs not be subject to the personal beliefs of health care providers,” Braverman says.

After today's filing, the pharmacies will get the chance to respond before the case is resolved or goes to trial. In the meantime, Anderson is “excited” to be speaking out, and worried about other women in and around her town.

“In that area, there are so many young girls… who may not have the knowledge and resources I have,” she says.

Anderson's picturing a scared teen who wouldn't know where to turn to for help. That teen should know they don't have to “accept” that. Anderson certainly won’t.