Bloomberg News

Washington State Can’t Make Pharmacies Sell Contraceptives

February 27, 2012

(Updates with comment from opinion in third paragraph.)

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Washington state can’t compel pharmacies to sell emergency contraceptives such as Plan B when such an action violates religious beliefs of the pharmacists, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton 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.

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,” Leighton wrote in his opinion.

The pharmacy board enacted the regulations requiring the sale of the drugs under pressure from state officials and from the birth control organization Planned Parenthood, according to the opinion. The filing states that the pharmacists who filed the suit refused to sell emergency contraceptives to test shoppers from Planned Parenthood.

The plaintiffs, who filed the suit in 2007, are two individual pharmacists and a company, Stormans Inc., that operates two grocery stores, one of which has a pharmacy. It’s the pharmacists’ religious belief that life begins when the egg is fertilized by the sperm, the filing states.

Plan B, Ella

The drugs in question, Plan B and Ella, are contraceptives taken after unprotected sex. They can prevent the fertilized egg from becoming implanted on the wall of the uterus and developing into an embryo.

“We’re reading through the judge’s decision,” Joyce Roper, the senior assistant attorney general of Washington, said in a telephone interview. “We will be talking with our clients and then make a decision about what our next step will be.” The clients are the pharmacy board and the state Department of Health.

“Today’s decision sends a very clear message: No individual can be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” Luke Goodrich, a litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a press release. The Becket Fund represented the plaintiffs in the case.

According to the Becket Fund, one of the plaintiffs, Margo Thelen, lost her job because of the board’s regulations.

The case is Stormans Inc. v. Selecky, 07-05374, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Tacoma).

--Editors: Michael Hytha, Glenn Holdcraft

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Jeffrey in New York at djeffrey1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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