Pharmacies cannot be forced to sell 'Plan B' pill, federal judge rules
Two pharmacists say 'morning after' drug is an abortion pill
A federal judge has ruled that Washington State can't force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton says that the state's true goal was to suppress religious objections by druggists, and not to promote timely access to the medicines for people who need them.
Washington's rules require that pharmacies stock and dispense drugs for which there is a demand. In 2007, Washington State implemented the law after reports that some women had been denied access to Plan B. Plan B has a high dose of medicine found in birth-control pills and is effective if a woman takes it within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Washington's rules require that pharmacies stock and dispense drugs for which there is a demand. In 2007, Washington State implemented the law after reports that some women had been denied access to Plan B. Plan B has a high dose of medicine found in birth-control pills and is effective if a woman takes it within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. However, if the egg has been fertilized, it can also induce an abortion.
State lawyers argued that the requirements are legal because they apply neutrally to all medicines and pharmacies, and because they promote a government interest - the timely delivery of medicine, including Plan B, which becomes less effective as time passes.
However -- Leighton ruled that the state allows all sorts of business exemptions to the rules. Pharmacies can decline to stock a drug, such as certain painkillers, if it's likely to increase the risk of theft -- or if it requires an inordinate amount of paperwork -- or if the drug is temporarily unavailable from suppliers.
"The most compelling evidence that the rules target religious conduct is the fact the rules contain numerous secular exemptions," the judge 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 fails to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience."
Contraception has recently been debated in political and health care circles around the nation. A controversy erupted this month when religiousand Pro-Life groups protested a new federal rule that required church-affiliated universities, hospitals and nonprofits to include birth control, abortion inducing drugs and sterilization without co-pays or premiums in their insurance plans.
President Barack Obama allegedly changed the rule to shift the burden from religious organizations to insurance companies. However, many religious and pro-life groups are self insured. In addition, they pay the insurance companies and thereby cooperate in the direct violation of their deeply held religious beliefs and conscience. Lawmakers in some states have since taken up the fight with proposals that serve as direct challenges to Obama's ruling.
Leighton did not strike down Washington's rules, but said that the way they were applied to the plaintiffs in this case was unconstitutional.
The state remains free to try to enforce the law against other pharmacies that violated the stocking and dispensing rules, whether for Plan B or other drugs; it remains unclear whether courts would reach a similar conclusion if pharmacies objected to selling other drugs for religious reasons.
"I remain concerned about the impacts on patients if pharmacies are allowed to refuse to dispense lawfully prescribed or lawful medications to patients," Governor Chris Gregoire, who insisted on the dispensing rule's adoption. "I am especially concerned about those living in rural areas, many of whom may have few alternatives and could suffer lengthy delays in receiving medication or go without entirely."
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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