Articles on Walgreens contraceptive policy lack context

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COMPLAINT: Walgreens employees can refuse to sell customers contraceptives such as condoms if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

PA ASSESSMENT: Context missing. It is Walgreens policy that employees may refuse to complete a customer’s transaction if they have religious or moral objections to the sale, but must then turn it over to a colleague or manager who can complete the transaction. a spokesperson for the drugstore chain told The Associated Press.

THE FACTS: Walgreens’ policy of allowing individual employees to refuse to sell items contrary to their beliefs has been widely discussed online in recent days, after several customers shared popular posts about workers refusing to sell them items. contraceptives.

The stories sparked calls for a boycott of Walgreens, but some articles on the subject misrepresented company policy by failing to explain that employees are still required to ask another worker to close the sale. Others have falsely suggested that the chain refuses such sales entirely.

A July 19 Instagram post that has been liked more than 4,000 times, for example, claimed: “Walgreens is hit by a wave of boycotts after it was revealed that employees are allowed to refuse the sale of condoms and emergency contraceptives to clients because of their religious beliefs. .” A similar Twitter post by the same group has been shared over 30,000 times.

Other publications have taken the claim a step further. “In red states, Walgreens refuses to sell condoms,” one tweet claimed. “Walgreens said they could and would not sell condoms and contraceptives,” another said.

Scott Goldberg, director of global corporate communications at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the parent company, clarified the policy in a statement to the AP.

“In the event that a team member has a religious belief that prevents them from meeting a customer’s needs, we ask them to refer the customer to another employee or department manager who can complete the transaction,” Goldberg wrote in an email.

Merrick Rossein, a law professor at the City University of New York, told the AP that Walgreens’ policy was legally valid. under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that employers must accommodate the religious beliefs of employees unless they create an undue burden on the employer.

Rossen, who specializes in employment discrimination, said whether such accommodation for the sale of contraceptives would be an undue burden on Walgreens could depend on the location of specific stores. In a big city, for example, a customer might visit another Walgreens store. But in a small town with only one or two employees on duty at the single pharmacy, it might be difficult to address such an objection while still fulfilling the company’s obligations to its customers, he said.

If a pharmacist didn’t want to fill a prescription because of moral or religious beliefs and there was no other employee who could fill it, Goldberg told the AP that “if this rare occurrence occurs, we would make sure our patient gets his medication.” if it means moving the prescription to another Walgreens location.

These claims surfaced following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protections for abortion. The ruling led to abortion bans in eight states with more expected to follow.

Mara Gandel-Powers, director of birth control access and senior advocate for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center, told the AP that many people don’t know how Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization , the case that toppled Roe, will affect their access to contraceptives. She said an employee’s refusal to sell contraceptives to customers can lead people to think they can no longer access them.

“We know a lot of people are confused about the meaning of the Dobbs case and I think there are people who are wondering what the impact on birth control has been,” she said. . “And the Dobbs case didn’t impact people’s ability to get birth control today.”

The US Department of Health and Human Services released tips to retail pharmacies in mid-July who said those receiving federal money, such as Medicare and Medicaid, could not discriminate against customers seeking drugs because that would be a form of gender discrimination, the AP reported. This includes contraceptives and drugs used in medical abortions.

Goldberg confirmed to the AP that these guidelines apply to the company and that Walgreens Boots Alliance is “currently reviewing them.”

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This is part of AP’s efforts to combat widely shared misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.


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