Judge: State cannot force pharmacies to sell contraceptives

In a vote for sanity in the personal conscience debate in healthcare, the AP reports US District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that “Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives.” Hallelujah!

The judge “heard closing arguments earlier this month in a lawsuit that claimed state rules violate the constitutional rights of pharmacists by requiring them to dispense such medicine.” Washington “state requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients.”

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports the judge “said that regulations by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy requiring pharmacies to sell prescribed medicines or face the possible loss of a license are unconstitutional, according to the opinion filed in Tacoma, Washington.”

In his opinion, Leighton wrote, “The board’s rules were designed 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 case “is Stormans Inc. v. Selecky, 07-05374, US District Court, Western District of Washington (Tacoma).”

“Leighton added that while the regulation does not apply to individual pharmacists, it impacts them by making them harder to employ since pharmacies must have at least one person on shift at all times who is willing to dispense the morning-after” capsules, The Hill “Healthwatch” blog reports.

“The decision comes as the Obama administration is sticking by its decision to guarantee access to contraceptives without co-pays for employees of religiously affiliated hospitals and universities.”

Those opposing abortion “immediately claimed victory on Wednesday.”

The Washington Times adds, “The ruling is a rebuke to the efforts of Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire … who worked to ensure that the Washington Board of Pharmacy would have new members who would write and pass a rule omitting ‘conscience’ as a reason for not dispensing Plan B or ‘Ella morning-after'” tablets.

“Mrs. Gregoire said Wednesday she and state officials will discuss ‘the best path forward’ to ensure access to these ‘time-sensitive medications.'”

However, “the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the plaintiffs with Seattle law firm Ellis, Li and McKinstry, said the ruling was a resounding victory for religious liberty.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer explains, “Leighton’s ruling Wednesday permanently barred the state from taking action against pharmacists who refused to distribute the drug.”

But “the state may still appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

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