A collage of birth control pills before bars.

Access Denied

Religious “Freedom” Is Trumping Our Safety

Pharmacists with extremist religious views are refusing to fill prescriptions for safe, legal medication like Misoprostol, which helps ease complications from miscarriage—putting people’s lives at risk.

This article was made possible because of the generous support of DAME members.  We urgently need your help to keep publishing. Will you contribute just $5 a month to support our journalism?

Rachel Peterson had a miscarriage.

Her OB/GYN called in a prescription to a Meijer Pharmacy in Petoskey, Michigan, for Misoprostol, the drug used in medical abortion and, in some cases, to treat ulcers. But it is also prescribed for those having already miscarried because, taken in a timely manner, the drug can save the person from having to undergo a surgical procedure.

The pharmacist on duty refused to fill her prescription, saying that “as a good Catholic male,” pharmacist Richard Kalkman could not “in good conscience fill the prescription” because he believed it was her intention to use it to end a pregnancy.

We hear it time and again about the religious convictions of others and why it prevents them from baking cakes, for example. But here, Kalkman modified his Catholicism by adding “male” at the end. Being Catholic wasn’t enough; Kalkman asserted his perceived authority with his maleness, using it as an exclamation point.

The National Women’s Law Center has tracked the rapid rise of refusals for emergency contraception—or EC, as it’s commonly referred to—and increasingly, contraception. The pending rule under Trump to allow employers to refuse contraception coverage would codify—federally—what is now a state by state decision to allow “moral” or “religious” objections by certain employers.  While a woman has the right to emergency contraception Peterson’s case carried an added health risk. Although rare in developed nations, death from infection from incomplete miscarriages can happen.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Misoprostol taken orally or vaginally decreases the need for the surgical D&C. The journal Pharmacy Times notes that pharmacists can play an important role providing “education and support for patients experiencing early miscarriage.”

Kalkman obviously didn’t get the memo. Or more likely, he did, and chucked it in the trash.

When Peterson told him that her OB/GYN found no signs of viability from the fetus, which confirmed an early pregnancy loss, he accused her of lying and said “that was just [her] word.” (It should be noted that her doctor is a woman.)

Peterson contacted the pharmacy to complain. But not only did Kalkman refuse to fill the prescription; he wouldn’t allow her to speak with another pharmacist—which is protocol in cases of so-called religious objection.

“When you’re at one of the lowest moments of your life, you don’t expect this sort of demeaning treatment,” said Peterson “A pharmacy should not be able to deny patients medication prescribed by their doctors based on the personal beliefs of a particular employee.”

So Peterson went up the Meijer Pharmacy food chain, and leveled her complaint with the district manager, Michelle Baker. She also contacted Meijer headquarters. According to the ACLU filing, Peterson was told by a Meijer call-center representative she would be contacted by a corporate representative about an investigation into Kalkman’s actions—she was even given a complaint ID number. That call never came.

Fast-forward to October. Out of desperation (including Peterson’s mom calling the Meijer pharmacy on her behalf) she contacted the Michigan ACLU.

Merissa Kovach, policy director at the ACLU of Michigan, told me that Peterson doesn’t want a court battle—there have been no briefs filed and no case prepared. The ACLU simply submitted a letter to Meijer on Peterson’s behalf. The first sentence is gutting: “We write to you on behalf of Rachel Peterson, a woman who was demeaned and humiliated by a Meijer pharmacist after trying to fill a prescription to treat her miscarriage …”

Demeaned and humiliated.

Kovach told me Peterson’s case is one of the “most egregious” pharmacy denial cases she has come across. And, importantly, the first Misoprostol denial they have seen in Michigan. Religionists in positions of power—whether behind a pharmacy desk or a county clerk’s office—are more emboldened in the age of Trump.

Remember Kim Davis? I wrote about her for The Guardian in 2015. She was tossed into the local jail on contempt charges because she refused to discharge her duty as a state employee and issue a marriage license to a gay couple because God. The day she was released from jail, Davis was feted at a carefully constructed beatification ceremony—bought and paid for by Mike Huckabee.

Yes, über-Christian Huckabee, father of lies and of liars (Sarah) stood crying on an actual stage to embrace Davis as if she’d had a death sentence commuted. A crowd of straight-out-of-central-casting people holding up bibles and crosses affixed to sticks in ecclesiastical ecstasy witnessed this glorious event; the hymn chosen for the day the sweet, sweet 1980s Survivor classic “Eye of the Tiger.” (Survivor later said that Huckabee didn’t have permission to use the song.)

Political religionists like Huck like to think they are constantly under siege by some outside evil force of secularism—that wall of separation between church and state doesn’t exist for them. It seems bananas that these right-wing zealots found their savior in thrice-married racist pig Donald Trump, but he is truly the gift that keeps on giving to them.

Throwing kids in baby jails is apparently as Christian as amassing an arsenal in your doomsday-prepper hidey hole in the backyard and grabbing unwilling women by the pussy. But bake a cake for a same-sex couple!? That is just going overboard.

Unlike Davis, Kalkman hasn’t made his way to any stage. Not only did this man claim a religious objection to helping Peterson, but he also blithely dismissed a female OB/GYN, claiming the doctor’s confirmation of Peterson’s miscarriage was nothing more than a lie. Just let that sink in.

Demeaning and humiliation are the buzzwords driving the Trumpian GOP policy agenda:  Maternal mortality, especially among Black women, is on the rise more so than any other developed nation. Ninety-six people will be shot to death—an average of 50 women per month are murdered by gun violence by a domestic partner. Twelve million U.S. kids live hungry in “food insecure” environments due to poverty—typically in one-parent households. HIV and AIDS cases are on the rise in the South, especially among Black women and the LGBT community.

Man demeans and humiliates woman miscarrying. Man, unqualified to make medical diagnosis or decision calls female doctor a liar. Kinda makes your blood boil doesn’t it? And we will see more of these instances of men policing women’s reproductive health. It is coming fast and hard, granting (mostly) menfolk the power to use religion as a sword while forgetting the other part of the establishment clause freeing me from another person’s extremist religious beliefs (with a 14th Amendment right to privacy assist).

Taken in the broader context of America today, “demean and humiliate” is the white male mantra toward women. Or, more aptly, the “MAGA” of  Trump’s 2020 campaign.


Before you go, we hope you’ll consider supporting DAME’s journalism.

Today, just tiny number of corporations and billionaire owners are in control the news we watch and read. That influence shapes our culture and our understanding of the world. But at DAME, we serve as a counterbalance by doing things differently. We’re reader funded, which means our only agenda is to serve our readers. No both sides, no false equivalencies, no billionaire interests. Just our mission to publish the information and reporting that help you navigate the most complex issues we face.

But to keep publishing, stay independent and paywall free for all, we urgently need more support. During our Spring Membership drive, we hope you’ll join the community helping to build a more equitable media landscape with a monthly membership of just $5.00 per month or one-time gift in any amount.

Support Dame Today

Become a member!