By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
After years of contentious court battles and the bullying tactics of the state’s pro-abortion governor, attorneys for the state of Washington have conceded that federally protected conscience rights allow pharmacies to refuse to carry the “morning after pill.”
The Christian Post is reporting that instead of continuing the lawsuit against the owners of Ralph’s Thriftway pharmacy and two pharmacists who refuse to carry the drug, the state of Washington will instead seek to create new rules for pharmacists who have similar conscience objections to dispensing the controversial abortifacient known as the “morning after pill” or Plan B.
“Americans should not be forced out of their professions solely because of their religious beliefs – but that is exactly what Washington State sought to do,” said Luke Goodrich, legal counsel at The Becket Fund, which represents the plaintiffs in the case. “The government should accommodate and protect the fundamental rights of all members of the medical profession, not punish some members because of their religious beliefs.”
For the past several years, the state has maintained that the religious freedom of pharmacies and pharmacists would have to be restricted in order to ensure patient access to the morning after pill. But the state finally acknowledged that allowing pharmacies to refer patients to other pharmacies “is a time-honored pharmacy practice” and “do[es] not pose a threat to timely access to lawfully prescribed medications.”
As the Post explains, the state’s governor, Christine Gregoire, tried to bully members of the State Board of Pharmacy to change their minds afterthey voted unanimously in 2006 to support a rule to protect the conscience rights of pharmacy workers. This rule specifically allowed pharmacists to refuse to dispense Plan B for religious reasons and to refer patients to nearby suppliers.
When the governor heard about the vote, she publicly threatened to fire the board members and called them late at night to persuade them to change their minds.
In addition, the state’s Human Rights Commission also pressured the board by hinting that they could be held personally liable under gender discrimination laws if they supported the rule.
It was only under this immense pressure that board members decided to change the rule and require pharmacies to stock and dispense Plan B even if there is conscience objection.
“This sends a clear signal to Governor Christine Gregoire that her bullying tactics are not acceptable,” said Eric Rassbach, national director of litigation for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “It may come as a surprise to her, but conscientious and principled people like the owners and pharmacists of Ralph’s Thriftway are the backbone of this country.”
Carrie Gordon Earll, senior bioethics analyst for CitizenLink, expressed hope that other states will follow Washington’s lead and also pass laws to protect medical conscience rights.
“For a liberal state like Washington to backtrack in this way speaks to the credibility of the argument that health care providers providers, including pharmacists, should not be forced to participate in actions or dispense drugs that violate their rights of conscience – whether they are motivate by religious or moral beliefs,” she said.
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