OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state regulations cannot constitutionally require pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense abortion-causing contraceptives, said lawyers leading a legal challenge to the rules.
“The government has no business punishing citizens solely because of their religious beliefs,” Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Nov. 20. “We’re optimistic that the court will not permit the government’s naked discrimination against people of faith.”
The plaintiffs include the Stormans family grocery store and two pharmacists, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler. The grocery store and the jobs of the two pharmacists are threatened by state rules that require pharmacies to sell the Plan B pill, ella and similar “morning-after” drugs, which have abortion-causing effects.
In February 2012, a federal judge in Washington struck down the rules, saying they “discriminate intentionally and impinge plaintiffs’ fundamental right to free exercise of religion.”
However, the state of Washington appealed the decision, contending that pharmacy decisions should not interfere with patients’ needs.
On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case.
Goodrich said that the plaintiffs “willingly refer patients to over 30 pharmacies that stock the morning-after pill within a five-mile radius,” adding “no patient has ever been denied timely access to any drug.”
He said the practices of the pharmacy and the pharmacists are supported by the American Pharmacists Association and are legal in 49 other U.S. states.
If the rule is upheld, the plaintiffs could lose their pharmacy licenses.
The Becket Fund said that most pharmacies refuse to sell the morning-after pill due to concerns about profit. It argued that the state wrongly “punishes only decisions based on conscience.”