Washington State Upholds Pharmacists' Conscience Rights

Court Strikes Down Law on Dispensation of Morning-after Pill

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TACOMA, Washington, FEB. 22, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A federal court in Tacoma, Washington, struck down today a law that required pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill in violation of their religious beliefs.

The court held that the law violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, a statement from the The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which co-represented the plaintiffs, explained.

“Today’s decision sends a very clear message: No individual can be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “If the state allows pharmacies to refer patients elsewhere for economic, business, and convenience reasons, it has to allow them to refer for reasons of conscience.”

The plaintiffs in the case were a family-owned pharmacy and two individual pharmacists who refused in conscience to dispense Plan B (“the morning-after pill”) or Ella (“the week-after pill”).

In 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy passed new regulations making it illegal to refer patients to neighboring pharmacies for reasons of conscience, despite allowing them to refer patients elsewhere for a wide variety of business, economic, or convenience reasons. Because of the regulations, one of the plaintiffs lost her job and another was told she would have to transfer to another state; the owner of the pharmacy faced repeated investigations and threats of punishment from the state board.

“The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable,” the court declared. “They were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B, and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted.”

“The Board’s regulations have been aimed at Plan B and conscientious objections from their inception,” the court added. “Indeed, Plaintiffs have presented reams of [internal government documents] demonstrating that the predominant purpose of the rule was to stamp out the right to refuse [for religious reasons].”

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ZENIT Staff

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