Court says pharmacists MUST distribute abortion drugs despite religious objection

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)A Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive box, like the one pharmacists in Washington State are now required to provide to patients even if they have a religious objection to abortion. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the peoples' right to access the drug outweighs the religious rights of the pharmacists and business owners who object to it.

SEATTLE (Christian Examiner) – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Western Washington has issued a ruling that Christian pharmacists and pharmacy owners must distribute abortifacients – including "the morning after pill" even if they object to abortion on religious grounds.

In the court's ruling, Judge Susan Graber said the people's right to the access of drugs outweighed any "new fundamental right" to religious liberty in the business practices of the pharmacists.

"We recognize that there is a 'trend of protecting conscientious objectors to abortions' and that most—but not all—states do not require pharmacies to deliver prescriptions, such as Plan B and ella, in a timely manner," Graber wrote.

"On balance, however, we are unconvinced that the right to own, operate, or work at a licensed professional business free from regulations requiring the business to engage in activities that one sincerely believes leads to the taking of human life is "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." ... Accordingly, we decline to recognize a new fundamental right."

With 33 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store, it is extremely disappointing that the court and the state demand that we violate our conscience or lose our family business. All we are asking is to be able to live out the beliefs that we hold, as Americans have always been able to do, and to be able to refer patients for religious reasons, as the medical and pharmaceutical associations overwhelmingly recommend.
- Kevin Storman, Family Business Owner

In 2007, legislators in Washington State adopted new regulations requiring pharmacists to fill all prescriptions "in a timely manner consistent with reasonable expectations for filling the prescription." The regulations also said pharmacists could not "discriminate" in any way that violated state law.

One family-owned pharmacy objected to the mandate to provide abortion-inducing drugs, or abortifacients, in their pharmacy. The Storman family, owners of a grocery store and pharmacy, asked for a religious exemption to the law. They were later joined in the suit by other pharmacy owners and pharmacists.

Under the same law requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions, a provision exists allowing pharmacists to refer a prescription to another provider, but Kevin Storman, president of business, said the state is treating those who object to abortion unfairly because it now mandates that they fill prescriptions for abortifacients.

"The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons," Storman said in the statement. "In practice, it only bans religiously motivated referrals. With 33 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store, it is extremely disappointing that the court and the state demand that we violate our conscience or lose our family business. All we are asking is to be able to live out the beliefs that we hold, as Americans have always been able to do, and to be able to refer patients for religious reasons, as the medical and pharmaceutical associations overwhelmingly recommend."

The decision of the 9th Circuit overturns a lower court ruling granting an exemption to the Stormans and other pharmacists who have a religious objection to abortion. Now, the ruling of the appeals court almost certainly tees up another case for the U.S. Supreme Court, which is still addressing cases related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

At issue is how far the rights of Christian business owners extend and if they are required to provide material support for practices with which they disagree.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Storman family and the other pharmacists and pharmacies, pledged the organization would appeal the 9th Circuit's ruling.

"No one should be forced to choose between their religious convictions and their family businesses and livelihoods, particularly when the state allows referrals for just about any other reason," Waggoner said in a statement.

"The premier medical and pharmaceutical associations all support the right of a provider to refer patients, and all other states allow such referrals. This decision will affect many facilities within the state, including Catholic hospitals and pharmacies, which have made clear they will not dispense these drugs. As the district court noted, drugs like Plan B and ella are widely accessible within the state. In fact, no woman anywhere in Washington has been denied timely access to these drugs for religious reasons. We will appeal this ruling."