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WA court upholds religious conscience rights of pharmacists

March 12, 2012

Christian News Northwest
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TACOMA, Wash. — A federal court in Washington state ruled last month that the state board of pharmacy cannot force pharmacists to stock drugs that risk taking human life if the pharmacists have a religious, moral, or ethical objection. The court determined that the pharmacists should be allowed to do what they have sought from the beginning, which is to refer patients seeking Plan B or other such emergency contraceptives to other pharmacies.

The state’s attorney general, Rob McKenna, has not announced if an an appeal will be sought.   Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) allied attorneys with the Seattle law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, represented pharmacists in the lawsuit, Stormans v. Selecky. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is co-counsel together with ADF, which has provided financial and legal support for the case.

Americans should be able to rely on health care providers who have a conscience,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven Aden. “The court’s decision is a ringing affirmation that conscience and good health care are not only compatible, but inseparable. Allowing pharmacists to exercise their consciences in this way serves both the patients and the pharmacists. It’s a win-win situation.”

In its opinion, the court wrote, “The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable. They were designed instead 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. The rules are unconstitutional as applied to plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in 2007 by Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia and two licensed pharmacists, sought to safeguard the conscience rights of pharmacists and pharmacies against state pharmacy board regulations that forced them to stock or distribute drugs that can potentially induce abortions.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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