The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that pharmacists in Washington State must dispense Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as Plan B, even if they have personal religious objections to the medication. The ruling overturned a temporary injunction from the US District Court in Seattle that “prevented state officials from penalizing pharmacists who refused to dispense Plan B as long as they referred consumers to a nearby pharmacy where it was available,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The temporary injunction was issued after the owners of a pharmacy and two other pharmacists who worked elsewhere sued in response to regulations enacted in 2007. Those regulations barred pharmacists from violating patient privacy; harassing, intimidating, or discriminating against patients; or refusing to fill legally prescribed medications, reported Courthouse News. Stormans Inc., which owns the store Ralph’s Thriftway, and pharmacists Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen argued that the regulation would force them to choose between their jobs and their religious belief that life begins at fertilization. Plan B prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.
US District Judge Ronald Leighton issued the injunction in favor of the plaintiffs on the grounds that the pharmacists’ freedom to exercise religion was violated by the requirement to dispense Plan B. The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, including two conservatives appointed by President George W. Bush and a Clinton appointee, argued that Leighton’s decision was based on the wrong standard of review. The appeals court unanimously ruled that the Washington regulations were not intended to interfere “with religious beliefs or practices and were intended instead to promote patients’ health,” as stated in the San Francisco Chronicle. Appelate Judge Kim Wardlaw said that Leighton’s injunction did not consider the consequences faced by “sexually active women of childbearing age [who] will be denied reasonable access to Plan B.”