Court rules that Washington state pharmacists may deny Plan B

TACOMA, Wash. A federal judge here on Wednesday ruled in favor of a pharmacist’s right to “refuse and refer” the dispensing of any prescription for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, effectively overruling a state mandate that pharmacists in the state of Washington not decline to dispense a prescription drug based on moral beliefs unless there was a pharmacist coworker present who would adjudicate the prescription.

“The defendants [the state of Washington] are enjoined from enforcing [the anti-discrimination provisions of the new ruling enacted July 26] against any pharmacy which, or pharmacist who, refuses to dispense Plan B but instead immediately refers the patient either to the nearest source of Plan B or to a nearby source for Plan B,” concluded Judge Ronald Leighton of the U.S. District Court in his decision.

“Whether or not Plan B ... terminates a pregnancy, to those who believe that life begins at conception, the drug is designed to terminate a life,” the judge wrote. “[The regulations] appear designed to impose a Hobson’s choice for the majority of pharmacists who object to Plan B: dispense a drug that ends a life as defined by their religious teachings, or leave their present positions in the state of Washington.”

The suit was filed by two individual pharmacists and the grocer Ralph’s Thriftway, which operates two supermarkets, one day before the state enacted its regulation this summer. Prior to the adoption of the regulations, Ralph’s Thriftway had been the object of a boycott organized by persons protesting the grocer’s refusal to stock Plan B. Both the store and the pharmacy manager were subsequently investigated by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy for allegedly failing to maintain an adequate stock of medicines. The Board later initiated an additional investigation in response to allegations that Ralph’s Thriftway violated pharmacy regulations by not stocking Plan B.

The American Pharmacists Association supports a pharmacist’s right to refuse and refer, but recognizing the central role of many pharmacists to the local health care system, the association emphasizes that those patients refused a prescription ought to be directed to a pharmacy or pharmacist that will fill that prescription in a timely manner.

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