Polish pharmacist to court for refusing to provide a morning-after pill


Central Europe


Pharmacy. Photo AFP, Philip Fong

A Polish pharmacist has started a lawsuit to defend her right to refuse the provision of a morning-after pill. Her defence refers to the conscience clause, which allows doctors to refuse treatments that are contrary to their beliefs.

The pharmacist from Krakow took to court after she had refused to provide a woman with a morning-after pill. The patient received a prescription from her doctor for a drug of the brand EllaOne, an emergency contraceptive. That is reported by Notes from Poland. However, the pharmacist refused to give it to her, as she argued that the pill would threaten the life of the unborn child. In reaction, the patient started a lawsuit against the pharmacist.

Reprimand from district court

That led to a reprimand from the district pharmaceutical court. In Poland, pharmacists do not fall under the so-called conscience clause, which allows other health care workers to refuse to perform treatments contrary to their principles. In most cases, these treatments are linked to abortions or contraceptives.

However, as the pharmacist and her defence disagreed, they appealed to the Supreme Pharmaceutical Court. This court ruled that the lower court had to reconsider the case.

The defence of the pharmacist, consisting of members of Ordo Luris, a prominent conservative legal group, argues that the conscience clause should apply to everyone. "The right to refuse to perform any act contrary to one's conscience belongs to every human being as a fundamental human right", Magdalena Majkowska, a board member of Ordo Luris, said. "Freedom of conscience cannot be treated as a privilege arbitrarily granted to a group."

However, other legal experts claim that the patient's rights should also be considered. A spokesman of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Chamber said that a pharmacist is not to challenge the doctor's recommendations. "If we are talking about freedom, it should work both ways: if someone's freedom, in this case of a pharmacist, is to limit the patient's freedom, then we cannot speak of freedom", he said.

Upheaval about sexual and reproductive issues

Poland is known for its laws on sexual and reproductive issues. Recently, the near-total abortion ban caused much upheaval. In addition, the government has restricted sexual education at schools. Poland is also one of the only two countries where women need a doctor's prescription to obtain a morning-after pill.


The morning-after pill of EllaOne does not induce abortion, according to its website. It prevents ovulation, which makes fertilisation impossible. However, according to the firm, it does not prevent pregnancy if ovulation occurs before the pill is taken.



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