Washington State may allow pharmacists to exercise “religious objection” to contraception

Washington state has reversed its stance, choosing to review its regulations and find a way to permit pharmacists with religious objections not to stock emergency contraceptive drug “Plan B”, among other medications.

In 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy responded to complaints of pharmacists refusing to provide birth control pills, emergency contraception, and other medications by instituting a regulation requiring pharmacists all lawfully-prescribed drugs. The regulation permitted those with religious objections to ask a colleague to fill the prescription instead, but did not allow pharmacists to turn customers away.

In the case of Stormans v. Selecky, two pharmacists and a corporate pharmacy sued the state under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs; the case was then overturned on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs requested a re-hearing, which was granted, with the same result.

The plaintiffs requested a stay of enforcement in legal proceedings against pharmacists refusing to comply; the State of Washington and the plaintiffs have agreed to suspend proceedings in the case while the Washington State Board of Pharmacy reviews its regulations. It is likely that the Board will adopt something similar to a proposal from 2006, which allows for a “facilitated referral” — that is, a pharmacist who does not want to dispense a particular medication must provide a referral to a pharmacist who will fill the prescription.

This proposal was opposed by both Governor Christine Gregoire and Planned Parenthood in 2006. Wrote Gregoire in 2006, “no one should be denied appropriate prescription drugs based on the personal, religious or moral objection of individual pharmacists. Let me be clear: a lawful prescription should be filled unless there are clinical or patient safety issues.”

Update: The above link to CNS News is currently broken (article removed or CNS website malfunction). The National Catholic Register reports:

In a stunning reversal, the Washington State Pharmacy Board has decided to allow pharmacists with conscientious objections to filling certain prescriptions to merely refer patients to other nearby pharmacies.

On July 7 Judge Ronald Leighton of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington said that state attorneys had asked that the trial, due to start two weeks later, be postponed “to allow the Pharmacy Board time to complete its rulemaking processes” in rewriting the regulation in question.

3 Responses to Washington State may allow pharmacists to exercise “religious objection” to contraception

  1. Kudos for changing the headline. I'm still wondering about the source for the information on what the Board is likely to do, however.

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