In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind case, a veteran Minnesota pharmacist went on trial Monday accused of violating the civil rights of a mother of five by refusing to fill her prescription for emergency contraception.
Andrea Anderson, according to a civil lawsuit filed under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, sought the morning-after pill Ella in January 2019 at the only pharmacy in her hometown, McGregor (population 391), after a condom broke during sex.
“She acted quickly because any delay in obtaining emergency contraception increases the risk of pregnancy,” the complaint states.
But George Badeaux, who had been dispensing drugs from the McGregor Thrifty White pharmacy for several decades, refused to fill Anderson’s prescription, claiming it would violate his "beliefs," according to the complaint.
“Badeaux informed her that there would be another pharmacist working the next day, who might be willing to fill the medication but that he could not guarantee that they would help,” the complaint states.
Badeaux also warned Anderson against trying to get the prescription filled at a Shopko pharmacy in a nearby town and refused to tell her where else she could try, as required by state law, the complaint states.
Another pharmacist at a CVS in the city of Aitkin also blocked Anderson from getting the prescription filled. She wound up traveling 100 miles round trip, “while a massive snowstorm was headed to central Minnesota,” to get the prescription filled at Walgreens in Brainerd, according to the complaint.
Anderson is seeking unspecified damages and wants an injunction requiring Badeaux and the drugstore he works for to follow state law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, including issues related to pregnancy and childbirth.
The Badeaux trial, which began with jury selection Monday, comes as the once-dormant debate over contraception was rekindled after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — and by prominent lawmakers like Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who openly question the constitutionality of birth control.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. House passed a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception under federal law.
Anderson is being represented by lawyers from Gender Justice, which is based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Neither her lawyers nor Badeaux’s representatives are commenting on the case.
A spokeswoman for Gender Justice said the Anderson case appears to be the first in the country brought to trial by a woman who was refused contraception.
Originally, Anderson’s lawsuit included CVS as a defendant.
In court papers, Anderson said that after she was rebuffed by Badeaux, she called the CVS in Aitkin, where a female technician told her she couldn’t fill her Ella prescription and falsely told her she wouldn’t be able to get it filled in Brainerd, either.
Anderson and CVS reached a settlement before the case went to trial, and she received unspecified compensation, court records revealed.
NBC News asked CVS for the details of the settlement and to see whether the technician faced any discipline, but it hasn’t heard back from the pharmaceutical giant.
After Anderson got her prescription filled, she called the Thrifty White pharmacy and complained about how Badeaux treated her to owner Matt Hutera, court papers show.
Badeaux has refused to fill prescriptions for contraceptives at least three other times because he believes they cause abortions, the papers show. He said he objected to dispensing Ella, saying it could possibly prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
“It is similar to removing all care from a newborn child by throwing it out the backdoor into the woods,” he said in a court filing.
But Ella doesn’t induce abortions. It is a prescription drug that prevents a woman from becoming pregnant in the first place when it is taken within five days of unprotected sex, according to the manufacturer.
“If an individual is already pregnant, meaning that fertilized egg has implanted in their uterus, emergency contraception ‘Will not stop or harm the pregnancy,’” Anderson’s lawyers said in their complaint.
Aitkin County District Judge David Hermerding has already ruled that Badeaux can’t raise federal constitutional issues such as freedom of religion at the trial, although he will be allowed to explain his beliefs to the jury.
“The issue for the jury is not defendant’s constitutional rights,” the judge wrote. “It is whether he deliberately misled, obfuscated and blocked Ms. Anderson’s path to obtaining Ella.”
CORRECTION (Aug. 5, 2022, 7:14 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when the U.S. House passed a bill that would guarantee the right to contraception under federal law. It was two weeks ago, not last week.