Federal Appeals Court Okays Injunction Protecting Pro-Life Pharmacists
by Steven Ertelt
May 1, 2008
Olympia, WA (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction in a lower court ruling that halted a new state requirement forcing pharmacists to fill prescriptions for all drugs. The mandate included drugs that would violate the moral or religious beliefs of pharmacists who don’t want to be involved in abortions.
Washington state pharmacists who are pro-life were worried they could be forced to dispense the morning after pill or birth control drugs.
Under pressure from pro-abortion Gov. Chris Gregoire, the pharmacy board approved the rules in 2007.
Kevin Stormans, who owns pharmacies in the state, filed a lawsuit along with other pharmacists in July seeking to overturn the new rules and opt out of dispensing the Plan B pills.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription for the morning after pill or other objectionable drugs if they refer the customer to another store where they can get the order filled.
On Thursday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned back a request from the state government and abortion advocates to suspend the judge’s preliminary injunction while their appeal of Judge Leighton’s decision moves forward.
The appeals court ruled that the abortion advocates did not prove how women would be injured by the injunction staying in place while the appeals court rules on the appeal.
According to the Reuters report, the appeals court also approved a request from the state to speed up the proceedings in the case. Oral argument had been scheduled for June 3 in Seattle but that date may be pushed forward after today’s ruling.
In his decision, Leighton wrote that pharmacists would likely be victimized by the pharmacy regulations because their moral or religious beliefs would be abrogated.
"On the issue of free exercise of religion alone, the evidence before the court convinces it that the plaintiffs … have demonstrated both a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury," he wrote.
The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion Northwest Women’s Law Center joined the state in asking for an appeal.
The abortion proponents object to the "refuse and refer" system the injunction set up whereby objecting pharmacists can refused to dispense the drug and refer customers to another pharmacy.
The state board approved the new rules on a unanimous vote saying that pharmacists can’t get in the way of a patient’s "right" to a prescription.
The new rules allow pharmacists to opt out of dispensing the drug, but only if a colleague is available at the pharmacy at the time the customer wants the drug. Pharmacy owners are not given an option to exercise their rights.
But pro-life pharmacists said in their lawsuit that the law forces them into "choosing between their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs."
The lawsuit followed a new survey showing a majority of Americans believe pharmacists should be given a conscience clause to protect their moral and religious views.
The Baraga Interactive polling firm conducted the survey for Pharmacists for Life International and found that a majority of Americans favor optional coverage of so-called "birth control," and favor pharmacists being able to enjoy freedom of conscience regarding when to not fill or counsel for drugs.
Sixty-five percent support a pharmacist’s right to decline to fill or counsel for prescription drugs which violate their moral or religious views.
California, New Jersey and Illinois have laws similar to those in Washington while Arkansas, Georgia, South Dakota and Mississippi have laws that support the pharmacist’s right to opt out of dispensing drugs that violate their moral or religious views.