9th Circuit Fills Prescription for Religious Refusals at the Pharmacy


By Sondra Goldschein, Director of State Advocacy, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit lifted the injunction (PDF) on the Washington State pharmacy rules that protect a patient’s right to access medication without discrimination or delay. This is good news for the millions of women seeking to purchase contraception at pharmacies.

Across the country, we hear stories of individual pharmacists and pharmacies refusing to fill prescriptions based on a religious objection. Many times these stories come from patients trying to fill prescriptions for birth control, including emergency contraception.

Because the ACLU is committed to the health care needs of patients and the religious freedom of individual pharmacy employees, we advocate for solutions that protect both. So we were quite pleased when the Board of Pharmacy in Washington State issued rules that do exactly that. These rules, passed in 2007, make it clear that pharmacies have the responsibility to fill all valid prescriptions and satisfy all lawful requests for drugs like emergency contraception that certain patients can get without a prescription from behind the counter. An individual pharmacist with a religious objection will be able to ask another pharmacist on duty to provide the medicine, but in all cases, the pharmacy must provide the medication in a timely manner.

Our excitement for the rules was replaced with bewilderment when a federal district court blocked their enforcement pending trial; in Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, the court said that the rules likely violated the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty. And we weren’t the only ones who disagreed with the district court’s analysis: on Wednesday, the 9th Circuit lifted the injunction on Washington State’s pharmacy rules and found that the trial judge abused his discretion.

The 9th Circuit held that the purpose of the rules "was not to eliminate religious objections to the delivery of lawful medicines, but to eliminate all objections that do not ensure patient health, safety, and access to medication." The court noted that "the rules actually provide for religious accommodation — an individual pharmacist can decide whether to dispense a particular medication based on his religious beliefs and a particular pharmacy may continue to employ that pharmacist by making appropriate accommodations."

Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, was filed by two individual pharmacists and a pharmacy. Seven Washington patients, represented by Legal Voice and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, intervened in the case to help the state defend the rules. The case now returns to the district court.

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To schedule an interview with ACLU please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • crowepps

    This decision seems to me to be very well-balanced, acknowledging and accomodating the religious freedom rights of individual pharmacists while at the same time making sure that customers with different opinions are able to access necessary medical care prescribed by their doctors.

    I’m sure someone will bring up the ‘right’ of the pharmacy OWNER to make decisions about what medications he/she stocks, and perhaps this is a valid issue, but if owning a pharmacy that stocks a full range of medications is against their ‘beliefs’, perhaps their scrupulosity requires that in order to be true to those beliefs they need to go into a different line of work? I’m sure no one would argue that a ‘good conservative Christian’ had a right to own a grocery store and restrict employment to men only because of his ‘belief’ that women belonged in the home.

9th Circuit Fills Prescription for Religious Refusals at the Pharmacy


By Sondra Goldschein, Director of State Advocacy, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit lifted the injunction (PDF) on the Washington State pharmacy rules
that protect a patient’s right to access medication without
discrimination or delay. This is good news for the millions of women
seeking to purchase contraception at pharmacies.

Across the country, we hear stories of individual pharmacists and
pharmacies refusing to fill prescriptions based on a religious
objection. Many times these stories come from patients trying to fill
prescriptions for birth control, including emergency contraception.

Because the ACLU is committed to the health care needs of patients and the religious freedom of individual pharmacy employees, we advocate for solutions that protect both.
So we were quite pleased when the Board of Pharmacy in Washington State
issued rules that do exactly that. These rules, passed in 2007, make it
clear that pharmacies have the responsibility to fill all
valid prescriptions and satisfy all lawful requests for drugs like
emergency contraception that certain patients can get without a
prescription from behind the counter. An individual pharmacist
with a religious objection will be able to ask another pharmacist on
duty to provide the medicine, but in all cases, the pharmacy must
provide the medication in a timely manner.

Our excitement for the rules was replaced with bewilderment when a
federal district court blocked their enforcement pending trial; in Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky,
the court said that the rules likely violated the First Amendment’s
protection of religious liberty. And we weren’t the only ones who
disagreed with the district court’s analysis: on Wednesday, the 9th
Circuit lifted the injunction on Washington State’s pharmacy rules and
found that the trial judge abused his discretion.

The 9th Circuit held that the purpose of the rules "was not to
eliminate religious objections to the delivery of lawful medicines, but
to eliminate all objections that do not ensure patient health, safety,
and access to medication." The court noted that "the rules actually
provide for religious accommodation — an individual pharmacist can
decide whether to dispense a particular medication based on his
religious beliefs and a particular pharmacy may continue to employ that
pharmacist by making appropriate accommodations."

Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, was filed by two individual
pharmacists and a pharmacy. Seven Washington patients, represented by
Legal Voice and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, intervened
in the case to help the state defend the rules. The case now returns to
the district court.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with ACLU please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • alison-cole

    This is a great clarification of the issue and exactly what happened with the ruling.

  • grayduck

    Without being a lawyer, this appears to be a bad ruling in that the rules appear to have been imposed to discriminate against religious beliefs. Is there any precedent for any state requiring any store to carry any type of non-essential product or service for any reason? What evidence exists indicating that patients have been hurt because pharmacies have not been forced to carry the morning-after pill?

     

    How can anyone claim to be "pro-choice" and then try to force someone to help assist in what that person believes to be an abortion?

     

    http://www.abortiondiscussion.com

  • crowepps

    I think you misunderstand the concept of rights like “religious freedom”. Rights are held by PEOPLE, not by businesses. As I understand the law, no “persons” are forced to assist in any abortion, but those persons instead can step back and decline to assist. Those persons, however, are not allowed to invade the religious freedom rights of the customers by PREVENTING them from making their own moral choices. Owners of pharmacies who are unable to comply with the law are certainly free to sell their pharmacies to others who can comply with the law.

     

    As to “What evidence exists indicating that patients have been hurt because pharmacies have not been forced to carry the morning-after pill?” my understanding is that there is anecdotal evidence of women who had been raped and who were unable to get prompt access to the morning-after pill, which of course does NOT cause abortions, and so became pregnant and instead had abortions. If you believe that abortion is morally wrong, then it seems to me those women who weren’t able to PREVENT conception cheaply and instead were put in a position where they had to abort the pregnancy more expensively were hurt financially, emotionally and perhaps spiritually.

     

    Even though I am past the age where I would have any need for such a prescription, I would be want to be aware of the pharmacy’s policy, since I am extremely reluctant to trust my health care needs to a pharmacist with such a poor understanding of how this medication works. I really don’t think a pharmacist who ignores the scientific evidence and relies instead on propaganda is competent.