Appeals court sides with Minnesota woman denied morning-after pill

A woman who was denied a morning-after pill by a pharmacist in Aitkin County due to his personal beliefs was discriminated against and should get a new trial to determine damages, judges ruled Monday.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that pharmacist George Badeaux discriminated against Andrea Anderson in 2019 when he refused to fill a prescription for an emergency contraceptive.

The case went to trial in the summer of 2022 and while a jury found the ordeal caused Anderson $25,000 in emotional harm, it decided that Badeaux didn’t discriminate against her. Because there was no finding of liability, that also meant Anderson wasn’t entitled to the $25,000 payment, and she appealed.

Monday, the appellate court determined that the district court shouldn’t have denied Anderson’s business discrimination claim as a matter of law and that jury instructions were “apt to confuse and mislead the jury.”

“Because reasonable minds cannot disagree that Badeaux intentionally refused to dispense Anderson’s prescription,” the judges ordered the business discrimination judgment be reversed in her favor. Additionally, the court ruled that she’s entitled to a new trial to determine compensatory and punitive damages, and reversed the denial of her public accommodations claim against the pharmacy.

Rory Gray, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the law group representing Badeaux, said the court “failed to uphold George’s constitutionally protected freedom to act consistent with his beliefs while at work.”

“No one should be forced to violate his conscience in the workplace, and that includes dispensing drugs that can cause an abortion,” Gray said. “George politely informed the customer that he couldn’t dispense the drugs due to his personal beliefs. However, he offered to help her get the drug from another pharmacist, which she would have been able to do at the same pharmacy. As a devout Christian, George believes every human life has value. As such, George cannot provide or facilitate the use of any potential abortion-causing drugs.”

Gender Justice, which represents Anderson, called the Court of Appeals’ ruling “a historic and groundbreaking decision” and the first in the country to say a pharmacy’s refusal to fill such a prescription amounts to sex discrimination.

“Today’s ruling sends a clear message that discrimination in reproductive health care for any reason is not only unacceptable, but illegal under Minnesota law,” said Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice. “It’s a huge victory for every person who seeks care without prejudice or refusal based on beliefs held by others.”

“Businesses in Minnesota should be on notice that withholding medical care on the basis of personal beliefs is dangerous and illegal,” Braverman added.