Luke Vander Bleek has proved that you can fight city hall and win.
“City hall,” in this case, is the state of Illinois – specifically former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 2005 executive order that required all pharmacies in Illinois to dispense the Plan B “morning-after” birth control pill.
Vander Bleek, a pharmacist from Morrison, opposes abortion on religious and moral grounds. As such, he opposes the science behind the Plan B pill. He believes the contraceptive, which can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, is akin to an abortion pill.
Vander Bleek believed the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act was on his side. The law protects pharmacists from having to dispense a drug if doing so would violate their religious or moral beliefs.
The core issue was freedom itself – how far a government can infringe upon a business owner’s right to operate his business as he sees fit.
In 2005, Vander Bleek and another pharmacist sued the state to block Blagojevich’s order.
Blagojevich fought back. He promised to “vigorously defend” his rule. He said pharmacists like Vander Bleek should “find another profession.”
At first, the courts appeared to favor Blagojevich’s side.
Vander Bleek’s lawsuit was dismissed.
An initial appeal of that dismissal failed.
But the Illinois Supreme Court, in 2008, ruled in Vander Bleek’s favor, his lawsuit was reinstated, and it finally went to trial in 2011.
In that trial, Vander Bleek won a decisive victory.
A Sangamon County judge ruled that Blagojevich’s executive order violated the state’s right-of-conscience law and the First Amendment.
But the battle wasn’t over.
Lisa Madigan, Illinois attorney general, appealed the judge’s ruling. Her office persisted in defending Blagojevich’s order that all licensed pharmacies in Illinois must carry emergency contraceptives such as Plan B.
Three months ago, an appellate court rejected Madigan’s appeal.
And last week, Madigan wrote to the Illinois Supreme Court that her office “decided not to pursue further review.”
Those words must have been music to Vander Bleek’s ears.
“We’re thankful that the courts upheld our arguments,” he said.
The struggle has cost Vander Bleek time and legal fees. Another cost: the sale of a pharmacy in Prophetstown that he owned. While Blagojevich’s order was in effect, Vander Bleek was unable to find a pharmacist to staff it and thus decided to sell.
Vander Bleek said that he felt “terrific” after learning of his legal victory, which affirmed his freedom to operate his pharmacies in Morrison, Sycamore and Genoa according to his conscience, not according to Blagojevich’s edict.
As for Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year term for corruption at a Colorado federal prison, we are reminded of a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“Those who would deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. …”