Washington pharmacists learned today they will no longer be forced by the state to violate their consciences by dispensing contraceptive/abortifacients like Plan B and ella. In Stormans v. Selecky, Judge Ronald Leighton ruled in favor of family-owned pharmacy Ralph’s Thriftway and individual pharmacists Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler suing the Evergreen State for the ability to refer patients requesting these controversial drugs to nearby providers in keeping with common industry practice.
“I’m just thrilled that the court ruled to protect our constitutional right of conscience,” said Ms. Thelen, pharmacist for 39 years. “I was forced to leave a job I loved simply because of my deeply held religious convictions.”
Right of referral was respected in Washington for business as well as faith-based reasons until Governor Christine Gregoire launched a war against religious objectors previously protected by State Board of Pharmacy regulations. She replaced several members of the board and applied pressure until it came out with new regulations written by Planned Parenthood allowing drug referrals for business or secular reasons but prohibiting religious objections.
“The Board’s regulations have been aimed at Plan B and conscientious objections from their inception,” the court said today. “Indeed, Plaintiffs have presented reams of [internal government documents] demonstrating that the predominant purpose of the rule was to stamp out the right to refuse [for religious reasons].”
I explained in a February 3, 2012 editorial “A bitter pill,” that access isn’t the issue. As Luke Goodrich, Becket Fund attorney representing the plaintiffs told The Washington Times, “There are over 30 pharmacies that stock Plan B within a five-mile radius of our main plaintiff’s store.”
Today’s ruling sets an important precedent for protecting the freedom of religious practice at the core of our national identity and shows that there may yet be hope for retaining it.