Washington Court Mandate: Pharmacies Must Stock Plan B

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Last Wednesday, a 9th circuit district appeals court in Washington state ruled that, despite a pharmacist’s personal moral or religious believes, he or she is required by law to stock and sell emergency contraception.

Last Wednesday, a 9th circuit district appeals court in Washington state ruled that, despite a pharmacist’s personal moral or religious believes, he or she is required by law to stock and sell emergency contraception, otherwise known as the Plan B pill. According to a report yesterday in the LA Times, the ruling came after an Olympia supermarket owner filed suit to try and block a 2007 law, which required all pharmacies to provide the drug, which is now available over the counter for women 17 and up.

“Family-owned Ralph’s Thriftway and two pharmacists employed elsewhere sued Washington state officials over the requirement. The plaintiffs asserted that their Christian beliefs prevented them from dispensing the pills, which can prevent implantation of a recently fertilized egg. They said that the new regulations would force them to choose between keeping their jobs and heeding their religious objections to a medication they regard as a form of abortion.”

This is an argument we’ve seen before, from pharmacies refusing to sell anything from condoms to the pill. Here, the pharmacists—Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen, two women—and the father and son owners of Ralph’s, actually are saying this is the equivalent of abortion. Were the pharmacies required to sell RU-486 to anyone who walked in, the owners might have an argument. But this is about providing FDA-approved contraceptive medication to women whose regular birth control has failed them—a step, in fact, to decrease the necessity for abortion.

What’s so uplifting about this decision—which came from two judges appointed by Bush, and one appointed by Clinton—is that it may be used as a standard for other cases in the United States. "Any refusal to dispense,” the panel said, “regardless of whether it is motivated by religion, morals, conscience, ethics, discriminatory prejudices, or personal distaste for a patient–violates the rules." It doesn’t matter why a pharmacy doesn’t want to give grown women the choice to stop a pregnancy from beginning; the court is upholding a woman’s right to choose what is best for her body, and her life.

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