A former nurse practitioner who worked at a MinuteClinic in Virginia is suing CVS Health, alleging that the company fired her because she refused to give certain contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs, in keeping with her religious beliefs.
Attorneys for Paige Casey said in a lawsuit filed in a county circuit court that CVS, which owns MinuteClinic, exempted the nurse for more than two and a half years from prescribing certain contraceptive drugs or devices that cause an abortion. It specifically cited Plan B and Ella, which are commonly referred to as morning-after pills. Casey was granted the accommodation after she wrote a request to the company based on her Catholic beliefs, the lawsuit said.
That changed in August 2021, when the Rhode Island-based company announced that its employees could no longer avoid prescribing abortion-inducing drugs and other forms of birth control, the lawsuit said.
“We are entering some dangerous territory if corporations can fire someone for exercising their religious beliefs,” said Denise Harle, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian, conservative legal group representing Casey in the case. “Tolerance goes two ways.”
The lawsuit spells out Casey’s interactions with her supervisors after CVS announced it would no longer let its employees avoid prescribing the drugs: Casey, who had primarily worked at a MinuteClinic in Alexandria, Va., since 2018, again asked for accommodation for her religious beliefs in December. In January and March, company officials reiterated they would no longer accommodate her request.
CVS fired Casey, effective April 1, after she repeatedly told her supervisors that she could not prescribe abortion-causing drugs.
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Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesperson, said in a statement that employees can submit requests to the company based on their religious beliefs. But employees cannot be exempt from aiding pregnancy prevention and safe sex practices, he said.
“We cannot grant exemptions from these essential MinuteClinic functions,” he said.
Virginia law protects people from being required to participate in procedures that result in abortions based on moral, ethical and religious beliefs. The law does not explicitly mention hormonal contraceptives.
Harle said there is no case law indicating whether distribution of abortion-inducing drugs is protected under the provision, though she said she believed Casey’s lawsuit made a “straightforward claim,” based on how the provision is written.
This week’s filing comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established the right to an abortion in the United States. Since then, 15 states have banned or mostly banned abortion, and an Indiana ban is set to take effect this month. Some abortion rights advocates say lawmakers could also potentially curb people’s access to birth control.
In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, said in June that he would seek a 15-week abortion ban. Neither abortion nor contraceptives are illegal in Virginia.
Casey was planning to file the suit before Roe was overturned, regardless of the court’s decision, Harle said.
“If anything, the overturning of Roe slowed this case down just because [Alliance Defending Freedom] has been so busy,” she said.
An Alliance Defending Freedom spokeswoman said Casey was unavailable to comment on the lawsuit.