- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2012

A court in Washington is poised to decide whether pharmacists should be forced to violate their religious beliefs at the command of the state or go out of business. Wednesday’s closing arguments in Stormans v. Selecky wrangled over whether pharmacists should be compelled to stock and dispense “morning-after” drugs. The ruling will signal whether America is still a land that supports individual liberty and freedom of conscience.

In 2006, Washington’s State Board of Pharmacy unanimously agreed that pharmacists with religious objections to providing emergency contraceptives/abortifacients like Plan B or ella could refer patients to nearby suppliers. However, leftist Gov. Christine Gregoire intervened. Promising to help the board come to “the right answer” after their “mistake,” she replaced several members with local Planned Parenthood and NARAL leaders. Unsurprisingly, the board subsequently decided that pharmacies in the Evergreen State must stock and dispense Plan B and ella regardless of whether compliance translated to forcing unwilling pharmacists to be complicit - in their view - in ending human life.

In seeking state mandates, activists are trying to create a special category for religious objections to these drugs among the more than 6,000 FDA-approved medications. They are ignoring the fact that pharmacies are businesses. Decisions for inventory are based on the needs of the local population, which a pharmacist with medical training understands better than a bureaucrat. As anyone who has ever had to order a drug or take a referral can attest, not every pharmacy stocks every drug. Cost is another factor. “Drugs are really expensive,” said Brian Gallagher, senior vice president of government affairs for the American Pharmacists Association. “One of the costs is inventory, carrying costs. If there’s not a lot of demand for something, it costs money. It’s like burying your money in the backyard but there’s an expiration date.” Thus, Washington state allows pharmacies to refer patients elsewhere for a wide variety of business and economic reasons, but not for reasons of conscience.

Supporters of the Washington rule claim it is an issue of access, ignoring data from a survey commissioned by the State Board of Pharmacy which confirmed that religious objections pose no barrier to obtaining Plan B. Seventy-seven percent of all Washington pharmacies currently stock it. Twenty-one percent said they don’t stock it due to low demand, an easy alternative source or status as a niche pharmacy. Only 2 percent of Washington pharmacies cited religious reasons for not stocking the drugs. As Luke Goodrich, a Becket Fund attorney who represents the plaintiffs, explained, “There are over 30 pharmacies that stock Plan B within a five-mile radius of our main plaintiff’s store.”

One of the plaintiffs, Margo Thelen, can’t understand why her state is trying to make her choose between her beliefs and her livelihood. “Being able to provide compassionate care to the public and my customers is something that’s dear to my heart,” she told The Washington Times. “I do it well and I enjoy it. My convictions give me my character and make me the caring, competent pharmacist that I am. It’s really hard that they want us to check our morals and convictions at the door and become a robot. My objection is with the product. I can’t serve a product that takes human life.”

The decision rendered in the next three weeks will set precedent for similar cases nationwide. Hopefully, Judge Ronald Leighton will rule in favor of the family pharmacists in accordance with our national identity and not agenda-driven social-engineering bullies like Gov. Gregoire.

Anneke E. Green is Assistant Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnekeEGreen