“I won’t fill your birth control prescription.”

My name is Susanne Koestner, and I want to share something disturbing that happened to me earlier this month. On Sunday, June 10, I called in to the Walgreen’s Pharmacy at 10300 Central SE in Albuquerque to refill my birth control prescription. The pharmacist on duty told me that he couldn’t fill my prescription and said I would have to wait until the next day for another pharmacist to fill it. When I asked why, he said, “Because it’s against my religious beliefs.”


I needed my medication immediately and couldn’t wait until the next day. I was forced to drive to a different part of town to get my prescription filled. Walgreens put the burden on me to find a pharmacist that had no personal objections to the medication my doctor prescribed me.


Will you join me in asking Walgreens to ensure that their employees’ religious beliefs don’t compromise women’s health care?


While religious freedom is important, religion should not be used to discriminate against people, and that is what happened to me.  Something is very wrong when a man can walk in to any pharmacy and buy condoms, but a woman can’t fill a birth control prescription prescribed to her by a doctor. Employers shouldmake reasonable accommodations for employees’ individual religious beliefs, but they should never do so at the expense of others.


As a patient, I am at the mercy of licensed pharmacists and pharmacies when it comes to being able to receive the medications my doctor has prescribed for me. I do not believe that I should be unable to receive my medication based on the individual beliefs of each pharmacist.  It is Walgreens’ responsibility to provide seamless patient care to me.


Walgreen’s failed me in this respect, and I want to make sure that no other woman is ever refused essential health care. For many women in rural areas of New Mexico, there is no other pharmacy across town to go to if they are refused service.  And for many medications, including birth control pills, it is not acceptable to be forced to wait until a pharmacist with different beliefs is on duty to receive medication.


The ACLU of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center sent a letter to Walgreens’ Corporate Headquarters yesterday, asking them to adopt a policy would guarantee that customers receive seamless care regardless of the beliefs of their individual employees. Please lend your voice as well by signing our petetition, and let Walgreens know that it is unacceptable to erect barriers between women and essential health care.



Susanne Koestner


UPDATE: The Walgreens petition is now closed and has been sent to the company’s district office headquarters. Thanks to the 1,084 people who took action on this important issue!

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11 comments on ““I won’t fill your birth control prescription.”
  1. katherine lohr says:

    You are entitled to your religious beliefs but so am I. If you are biased against female birth control, then you should also be biased against male birth. We need birth control because many men refuse to use condoms.

  2. Jim Kentch says:

    Where’s the state action under these facts? If there isn’t any, then it looks to me like it’s a matter of private contract. And perhaps this woman should take her business elsewhere and try to get orthers to do the same.

    • Micah McCoy says:

      State action could be under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating against people based on their sex. When Walgreens makes contraception readily available to men and not to women, it constitutes sex discrimination.

      Rather than just taking her business elsewhere, Susanne chose to advocate for a change in policy at the corporate level. In rural areas, women may not have another pharmacy to take their business to.

    • Nick says:

      This pharmacist failed Walgreens. I am close enough to this company to know they have always upheld Civil Liberties and Federal law. Pharmacists like this one should not work in a retail pharmacy. This type of Rph needs to work were they do not feel compelled to force their religious beliefs on others.

      Research labs, and other non-retail settings need Pharmacists also!

  3. Dan says:

    BTW, the pharmacist does not sell condoms. Condoms are available OTC. If male condoms were only available by prescription, it is likely the pharmacist would not fulfill a condom prescription, either.

    • Micah McCoy says:

      Very true. But that’s sort of besides the point, isn’t it? You never hear of a cashier refusing to ring up a package of condoms on religious grounds. Bottom line: if a business offers a service–in this case contraception–men and women must have equal access to that service.

  4. SarahRose Werner says:

    http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conscientious-refusals.html mentions a similar case in Wisconsis in 2002 in which the woman seeking birth control filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing’s Pharmacy Examining Board. The administrative judge who initially heard the case upheld her complaint, although on appeal, the court ruled that the pharmacist “had a right to refuse to provide birth control pills but not to refuse to transfer a valid prescription to another pharmacy.” (Part of the complaint was that he had in fact refused to do so.)

    I’m wondering if Ms. Koestner and others in her position have filed complaints at http://www.rld.state.nm.us/boards/Pharmacy_File_a_Complaint.aspx and if so, what was the response?

  5. Holly says:

    Susanne, I feel so proud of you for going public with your experience. Your voice has served to inform and inspire appropriate outrage, action and dialogue in our community. Your basic civil rights were denied on the basis of your gender and one’s religious bias, and as such, so were mine. So were my neighbor’s. So were my community’s. Thank you for the opportunity to bring to Walgreen’s attention that they cannot leave my right to health care in the hands of an employee who decides on any given day whether I get to have it based on HIS/HER religious and/or gender preferences.

  6. Elizabeth Oster says:

    I find the action on the part of the pharmacist apalling, and am sad to hear that this has come to our state. Two thoughts come to mind…one, does this pharmacist fill prescriptions for Viagra (and if so, does he only fill them for married men having sex with their wives)? And, two, is the pharmacist not aware that many women are prescribed the Pill for reasons other than birth control (not that it would be his business)?

  7. Yasmeen says:

    I can’t force my religious beliefs on others in my place of employment, it’s appalling that people providing medical services could deny someone medication that might be needed not just desired. There are women who take birth control pills as a treatment for medical issues.

    But my idea stands to deal with these idiots. Any pharmacy that allows employees to deny services and prescriptions to people based on their religious beliefs should not be eligible for Federal or State Medicare or Medicaid, etc. payments/reimbursements. let’s see how quick they change their tunes!

  8. Ben says:

    Would they allow a Scientologist pharmacist to get away with not fill someone’s anti-depressant? Of course not.
    Religious freedom ends where it steps on someone else’s rights.

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