Court: Pharmacies can’t use religious objections to deny medicines

July 24, 2015

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that Washington can require pharmacies to deliver medications such as Plan B even if owners have a religious objection.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that Washington can require pharmacies to deliver medications such as Plan B even if owners have a religious objection.

Previously, a lower court had ruled that a Washington law requiring pharmacies to dispense emergency contraceptives even if they had religious objections was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has permitted closely held corporations to seek exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement.

The Washington law allows individual pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain medications based on religious objections so long as another pharmacist is available to dispense that medication. However, the law stipulates that all pharmacies throughout the state must deliver the medications. Pharmacists cannot refer patients to other pharmacies.

The appeals panel ruled that the law was constitutional because it furthers the state’s interest in patient safety, and that speed of delivery is crucial due to the nature of emergency contraceptives.

“The rules are rationally related to Washington’s legitimate interest in ensuring that its citizens have safe and timely access to their lawful and lawfully prescribed medications,” Judge Susan Graber wrote. “The time taken to travel to another pharmacy, especially in rural areas where pharmacies are sparse, may reduce the efficacy of those drugs."

The case involves two pharmacists and Ralph’s Thriftway, a grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, Wash. “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,” said Kevin Stormans, president of the company that owns Ralph’s Thriftway.