Washington State pharmacy board reconsiders Plan B

September 15, 2010

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy is revisiting its rules requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives.

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy is revisiting its rules requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives.

In 2007 the board issued regulations requiring pharmacists to dispense medications in stock, including Plan B, also known as the "morning-after pill," to patients with valid prescriptions. Under the 2007 rule, if a pharmacist did not want to dispense a medication for any reason, including moral or religious beliefs, someone else in the pharmacy would have to dispense the medication. However, soon after the rule was published, Stormans Inc., the owners of Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia, Wash., and pharmacists Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen sued the Washington State Department of Health and the state pharmacy board, arguing that pharmacists should not be required to administer medical treatments they consider immoral. The ruling forced them to "choose between their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs," according to the complaint.

For the past 3 years, the 2 sides have been negotiating in an attempt to reach a solution that would satisfy both parties and prevent the litigation from going to trial. In July, the Washington State Pharmacy Board offered to attempt to develop new rules that would "satisfy all sides, instead of fighting the case in a long, expensive trial," said Donn Moyer, media relations manager for the Washington State Department of Health.

As a result, in late August the Washington State Department of Health began the process that will reconsider the dispensing of emergency contraceptives. The process may span about a year and will include public testimony. "It is still unclear whether it would be a revision to the existing rules ... a new rule, or no rule at all," Moyer said.