04/06/2011 11:36 am ET Updated Jun 06, 2011

Morning-After Pill: Illinois Judge Rules Pharmacists Can't Be Required To Sell Plan B

In 2005, then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich introduced a rule requiring pharmacists to distribute the so-called "morning-after pill" to women who asked for it. Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, delivers a concentrated dose of hormones like those found in regular birth control, such that if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can disrupt ovulation or fertilization, preventing pregnancy.

Someone seeking emergency contraception should have a right to obtain it, no matter what, Blagojevich insisted. "No delays. No hassles. No lectures. Just fill the prescription," he said, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time.

But an Illinois judge ruled Tuesday that it can't be so cut-and-dried.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz sided with a pair of pharmacists who filed suit against the rule, claiming that it violated the state's "right-of-conscience" law, NBC Chicago writes. That law protects healthcare providers from being forced to give care that violates their belief.

When Blagojevich made his rule, he said that right-of-conscience only applied to physicians, not pharmacists. And circuit and appellate courts dismissed the lawsuit, as CBS reports, because the pharmacists hadn't been fired or suffered other consequences because of the rule.

The state Supreme Court, however, ruled that lower courts had to hear the case. And now, Judge Belz has sided with the plaintiffs, who argue that the pill is tantamount to abortion and violates their religious beliefs, says the Sun-Times.

Of course, this is a somewhat contentious claim. Plan B is distinct from RU-486, the abortion pill. In most if not all cases, Plan B acts by preventing ovulation, according to the FDA. In some cases, it interferes with fertilization of the egg. And studies from the 1970 and '80s suggested that there was some chance that the pill kept a newly-fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterine wall.

This last possibility provoked the outrage of hard-line anti-abortion activists, who believe that life begins at fertilization, and that the emergency contraceptive is therefore a very early form of abortion in those cases. But a slew of recent studies suggest that Plan B actually does not interfere with implantation.

The Illinois Attorney General's office says it plans to appeal the ruling.