Washington Debate on Pharmacists and Morning After Pill Heads to Court

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 9, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Washington Debate on Pharmacists and Morning After Pill Heads to Court

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
July 9
, 2008

Olympia, WA (LifeNews.com) — A debate over whether pharmacists should be required to fill prescriptions for all drugs, including those that would violate their moral or religious beliefs, is headed to a federal appeals court next week. On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will take up a lawsuit from abortion advocates.

They are appealing the decision of a judge who halted a new state requirement that would limit the conscience rights of pharmacists.

Pharmacists who are pro-life were worried they could be forced to dispense the morning after pill or other drugs that violate their beliefs.

Under pressure from pro-abortion Gov. Chris Gregoire, the pharmacy board approved the rules last year.

Kevin Stormans, who owns pharmacies in the state, filed a lawsuit along with other pharmacists in July seeking to overturn the new rules.

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 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," Leighton wrote.

But the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion Northwest Women’s Law Center are asking for Judge Leighton’s injunction to be overturned. The appeals court will weigh their request on Tuesday at a hearing.

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 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.

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