|Tuesday, 28 February 2012 09:49|
On Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012, a federal judge in Tacoma ruled that pharmacies and pharmacists may not be compelled to dispense medications which violate their religious beliefs. The ruling in the Stormans v. Selecky case marks a major victory for supporters of religious liberty and conscience rights.
In 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy passed a rule that required all pharmacies to stock and supply all prescription medications which patients may need, including Plan B, an abortifacient. The rule created a twofold problem: pharmacies were required to carry medications
such as emergency contraceptives regardless of the owner’s moral objections, and pharmacists were required to fill prescriptions which may violate consciences if no other pharmacist was available. Stormans Inc., a family-owned pharmacy at a Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, and two individual pharmacists filed suit saying the rule violated their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion. Throughout the trial, the state did not provide evidence that any patients were unable to attain Plan B in a timely manner.
The court held that the state rule was specifically drafted “for the primary – perhaps sole – purpose of forcing pharmacies (and in turn pharmacists) to dispense Plan B over their sincerely-held religious beliefs.” Pharmacies may opt out of providing medications for many non-religious reasons, including increased risk of theft from the pharmacy, inordinately large amounts of paperwork, or if the medication is temporarily out of stock. The U.S. District Judge presiding over the case, Ronald Leighton, said, “In sum, the rules exempt pharmacies and pharmacists from stocking and delivering lawfully prescribed drugs for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons, but fail to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience.”
This ruling comes at a critical time for religious liberty and conscience rights supporters, as debate over the HHS contraceptive insurance coverage mandate continues on the national level. The ruling stands as a major victory for conscience rights advocates, but is likely to be appealed.