Patients, advocates, and women in Washington State celebrated last week as the Washington State Board of Pharmacy voted 5-1 not to go ahead with a prescription medication rule change, but instead maintain the policy which preserves patients’ rights to access legal medication at a pharmacy, without delay.
No one knows for sure what made the Washington State Pharmacy Board reverse its course just last month. In November, the board had announced rather suddenly that it would consider changing the rules for filling prescription medication and allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense certain legal medication – Plan B being one of those.
It was an odd decision given that after an extensive public input process the Board had already decided, in 2007, to establish a rule that ensured that a pharmacy must fill a customer’s legal prescription. The rule did allow individual pharmacists to opt out of dispensing medication if it collided with their personal belief system, but only if another pharmacist was available, on site, to fill the prescription “without discrimination or delay,” according to a joint news release from Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington and Legal Voice.
The 2007 rule was immediately challenged by two pharmacists and a pharmacy owned by a man who was/is “morally opposed” to Plan B. The case was then put on hold, last month, while the State Pharmacy Board decided to inexplicably re-open the rules process with an eye towards allowing pharmacies to refuse to fill patient prescriptions.
The pharmacists who objected to the 2007 rule seem likely to lose their case- which made the Board’s recent decision to potentially change the rules even more questionable. When the Pharmacy Board announced its plan to revisit the rules, however, the public groundswell in opposition was simply too much to ignore. Almost immediately, thousands of comments came pouring into the Board. Of the 5,300 comments, over 80% of those were in favor of keeping the current rule in place. That is, most people did not think pharmacies should be able to opt out of dispensing medication to its customers if the pharmacy registered a “personal opposition” to said medication.
“We’re thrilled that the Board of Pharmacy has listened to the thousands of Washingtonians who contacted them to oppose changing existing rules which are balanced, fair and promote patients’ rights,” said Jennifer Allen, Director of Public Policy, Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington.
The case brought by the pharmacists will now move forward but Legal Voice, a women’s rights legal group which represents seven Washington patients who have intervened to defend the rules, is confident.
“Legal Voice commends the Board of Pharmacy for retaining the existing rules, said Sara L. Ainsworth, Senior Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice. “We are confident these rules are constitutional and stand ready to defend them – and patients’ health – in court.”