Judge Rules Pharmacists Can Refuse to Hand Out Plan B for Religious Reasons

There's been yet another setback in the battle over access to contraception. A federal judge today ruled that Washington state cannot require pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives to customers if doing so goes against their religious beliefs. Judge Ronald B. Leighton said the regulation that required pharmacists to do so was unconstitutional because it blocked pharmacists' right to "conscientious objection."

The suit that resulted in this ruling was brought by a drugstore owner and two of his pharmacists. They believe that emergency contraception is equivalent to abortion, which… Well, science says otherwise! But who believes in that anyway?

The judge noted that the state permitted pharmacies from not stocking medications for some "secular reasons," like being too expensive, thus religious reasons should be equally valid. He explained in his opinion,

A pharmacy is permitted to refuse to stock oxycodone because it fears robbery, but the same pharmacy cannot refuse to stock Plan B because it objects on religious grounds. Why are these reasons treated differently under the rules?

We can all probably think of a few reasons why they're very different, but what do we know, we're not judges! In terms of the real world affect of the ruling, Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who supported the pharmacy mandate, said that she's concerned that some women will now be denied crucial fast access to emergency contraception. She also said there were "strong arguments" for appealing the ruling, though no decision to do that has yet been made.

In the meantime, this ruling could have an influence in the nationwide debate over whether religious employers should be required to cover free birth control for their employees. Several religious universities are suing to block the mandate that says insurance plans must provide free contraception, and their claim is based on the fact that they say government has no right to compel people to go against their religious beliefs. So the fact that the Washington state regulation was overturned could be setting an ominous tone for the contraceptive battles that await us.

Judge strikes down law mandating sale of contraception [Chicago Tribune]

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