Whose Freedom Is It? 

Idaho's Freedom of Conscience law moves to the front burner, again.

Politics and reality sometimes coexist in alternate universes. Occasionally, they are runaway trains, destined for collision. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest had long ago-planned for what it called its Citizen Lobby Day on January 17.

Each year, the group enlists dozens of staff and volunteers to populate the statehouse in an effort to lobby legislators. Little did they know that an incident involving a nurse practitioner and a Canyon County pharmacist would propel their efforts to front pages, the 10 p.m. news and the always-fun world of talk radio.

The incident began when a Planned Parenthood clinician phoned a Nampa Walgreens to fill a prescription for Methergine, commonly used to prevent or control bleeding of the uterus following childbirth or an abortion. According to Planned Parenthood, the pharmacist asked if the drug was needed because of an abortion. The nurse practitioner said federal law kept her from answering. According to an official complaint the pharmacist refused to fill the prescription and hung up the phone.

"This could have ended in a very serious life-threatening event," said Rebecca Poedy, vice president of external affairs of PPGNW.

At the epicenter of the controversy is Idaho's Freedom of Conscience for Health Care Professionals law. The law, which went into effect July 1, allows health-care professionals to deny health-care services that violate his or her religious, moral or ethical principles. Specifically, that includes abortifacients. The law defines abortifacients as "any drug that causes an abortion, emergency contraception or any drug the primary purpose of which is to cause the destruction of an embryo or fetus."

Poedy has a problem with the law, beginning with how it's written.

"It insinuates that emergency contraception is an abortifacient," said Poedy. "It simply is not. We have a huge problem with that."

Casting a long shadow over their effort to amend or repeal the law is the Walgreens incident. Idaho's Board of Pharmacy launched a full investigation into the complaint, and as BW was going to press, the probe was wrapping up.

"Our chief investigator is still working on the case," said Mark Johnston, executive director of the pharmacy board. "Any possible discipline would ultimately be decided in an administrative hearing by our board of pharmacy."

A spokesman for Walgreens was tight-lipped on the incident.

"I can neither confirm nor deny any corporate action," said Tiffani Washington, a spokesperson at Walgreens headquarters in Illinois. "It's our company policy not to comment."

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has conducted a statewide poll on the Freedom of Conscience law.

"We know that the majority of Idahoans are outraged over this law," said Poedy. "A lot of folks think this law has no place on the books. We have a huge groundswell of support to repeal it, particularly in the wake of what happened with the Nampa Walgreens. We're going to fight this one really hard."

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