In July, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court upheld a Washington state law requiring pharmacies to provide patients with all medications in a timely manner, specifically including Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception.
The 2012 decision
The Ninth Circuit’s decision overturned a 2012 U.S. District Court decision that created an exception to a 2007 rule promulgated by the board of pharmacy, which required the speedy delivery of prescription medication for pharmacy owners who object on religious ground to offering emergency contraception.
The 2012 holding was the result of a suit brought by two licensed Washington pharmacists, who claimed that dispensing Plan B would infringe on their religious beliefs because the drug might prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, an act they equate with taking away human life.
U.S. District Court Judge Leighton stated, "the most compelling evidence that the rules target religious conduct is the fact the rules contain numerous secular exemptions. In sum, the rules exempt pharmacies and pharmacists from stocking and delivering lawfully prescribed drugs for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons, but fail to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience."
The Ninth Circuit ruling
The Ninth Circuit went on to dismiss the District Court’s reasoning, saying that the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Committee received zero complaints that pharmacies weren’t stocking certain drugs (1) for fear of criminal activity, (2) because they required too much administrative paperwork, or (3) were too expensive. Conversely, the plaintiff pharmacy alone has been the subject of 24 complaints since 2006 for turning away women seeking emergency contraception.
The Ninth Circuit Court also went on to reject the argument that pharmacies could easily and quickly refer customers to nearby pharmacies willing to sell the drugs, noting the state’s concern that emergency contraceptives be provided within 72 hours of a sexual encounter in order to be effective. The panel made sure to point out that Washington allows individual pharmacists to refuse service as long as there is another pharmacist in the same store who will dispense the drug, so that the drug is provided without delay.