Washington State Pharmacists Forced to Dispense Plan B Drug Thanks to Court
by Steven Ertelt
July 8, 2009
Olympia, WA (LifeNews.com) — Pharmacists in Washington state may soon be forced to dispense the morning after pill thanks to a ruling out today by a federal appeals court. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that had temporarily put on hold a requirement for pharmacists to dispense all legal drugs.
Under pressure from pro-abortion Gov. Chris Gregoire, the pharmacy board approved rules in 2007 making pharmacists dispense all drugs, including those that would violate their moral or religious views.
Those drugs could include the morning after pill, also known as Plan B, which can sometimes cause an abortion.
They could also include the lethal cocktails physicians order for patients to kill themselves under the state’s new law authorizing assisted suicide.
The lawsuit was filed by a small grocery and pharmacy in Olympia owned by the Stormans family, as well as two individual pharmacists. The lower court issued an injunction against the new rules, on the basis that the suit was likely to succeed.
The Ninth Circuit today reversed the injunction and claimed the lower court wrongly considered the debate over the regulations in determining that they targeted pharmacists with religious convictions.
The Pacific Justice Institute filed an amicus brief on behalf of the pharmacists and the group’s president, Brad Dacus, told LifeNews.com more about the decision.
"The Ninth Circuit said the history of the rules was irrelevant since the text does not specifically mention religious beliefs. As a result, a much lower standard applies, under which the government is virtually assured of prevailing in the case," he said.
"The Ninth Circuit also said that the injunction was overbroad and, if issued at all, should be limited to the specific plaintiffs not extended to all pharmacists in the state with religious objections," Dacus explained.
Dacus said the ruling "immediately endangers conscientious pharmacists in Washington State and also strikes a blow at medical professionals throughout the West Coast."
"The Ninth Circuit’s reinstatement of these anti-conscience regulations, despite strong evidence that they targeted people of faith, renders the Free Exercise Clause meaningless," he added.
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.
The pro-abortion groups ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the pro-abortion Northwest Women’s Law Center asked the appeals court for Judge Leighton’s injunction to be overturned.
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.
Related web sites:
Pacific Justice Institute – https://www.pji.org
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