By Casey Harper
A family-owned pharmacy is on the verge of being pushed out of business because they say the owners — devout Christians — won’t sell drugs like the morning after pill.
Washington state passed a law in 2007 that pharmacies must provide emergency contraceptives, like the morning after pill and the week after pill, which many pro-life groups say are equivalent to abortion because they may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the uterus, effectively killing it.
Stormans Inc., a Washington pharmacy, may go out of business because its owners refuse to comply with the law and are now plaintiffs in a legal battle with the state. The two other plaintiffs in the suit are pharmacists, one who lost her job because of her refusal to sell the drugs and the other who has been told she will lose hers if the regulations are upheld. The plaintiffs say the law violates their religious beliefs and their conscience and that the law is unconstitutional. But a federal appellate judge ruled against them in July of last year. They appealed to the Supreme Court Monday, their last chance of saving the Stormans business and the pharmacists careers in the state.
“[Under the law,] it’s perfectly legal for a pharmacy to say we’re not going to stock the week after pill because we think its unprofitable or we want to specialize in geriatric drugs and don’t want to stock that drug or even if you run out, that’s fine too, but if you don’t have the drug because your religion forbids you that is illegal,” Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The actual text of the rule lays out a general obligation that pharmacies have a duty to deliver legal drugs in a timely manner and then has a bunch of exceptions.”
Refusing based on faith or conscience does not fit into those exceptions, and, Goodrich told The DCNF, was designed that way on purpose to target religious pharmacists. He said that Planned Parenthood sent people into pharmacies all over the state looking for violators until they finally found Stormans pharmacy.
“Within five miles of [Stormans pharmacy], there are over 30 pharmacies that sell the morning after pill, so it’s undisputed that none of the customers have ever been denied timely access,” Goodrich told The DCNF.
The family challenged the law in court, and a federal court struck down the law in February 2012 saying it forced religious pharmacy owners to violate their faith. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then reversed the decision in July 2015 and reinstated the contentious law.
Goodrich said that Washington is the only state in the country with such a strict law and that the American Pharmacists Association, the leading group in the country, filed a brief in favor of the Christian pharmacists.
“There is going to be a tension there. In our view, the balance falls in favor of the patient who needs a medication,” Laura Einstein, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, told U.S. News and World Report. “It’s better for women’s health if there are laws or regulations on the books where there is a statement by the regulatory agency that it’s a priority that women’s health care needs are met.”
There is scientific dispute over whether the morning after and week after pill actually destroys a fertilized egg, which complicates the issue. It seems the distinction is more disputed on the morning after pill, Plan B, but is more likely with the week after pill, Ella. A brochure for Ella states that it is “possible that Ella works by preventing attachment to the wall inside the uterus,” reports U.S. News and World Report.
“As a matter of science there’s no settled answer on whether the drugs do or don’t destroy a fertilized egg by preventing it from implanting,” Goodrich told The DCNF. “There are studies which say that it is really difficult to rule out that it operates that way. The bottom line is there is uncertainty on that issue. It’s basically like handing them a gun and saying ‘some of the chambers are loaded, some aren’t, and I want you to point it at this person and pull the trigger.’ Their answer will be, ‘I don’t want to do that even if there is only a small chance of killing somebody.’”
The Supreme Court will likely decide in April if they’ll take up the case. If they take it up, it will probably be in the fall of 2016.
Goodrich told TheDCNF that if the law is allowed to stand, pro abortion groups would try to make this law the standard nationwide.
“Ever since Roe V. Wade the states and the federal government have consistently protected all medical professionals from being involved in what they consider an abortion,” Goodich told The DCNF. “This would really be the first time the legal system has given the green light to force people to be involved in what they think is an abortion.”
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