Photo of Pharmacy
(Photo : Mattes/Wikimedia/CC)
A photo of a pharmacy in Province, Thailand taken on February 2007.

The owners of Ralphs’ Thriftway, a pharmacy in Olympia, Washington are required to provide abortifacients to clients, although it goes against their religious beliefs. Judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Stormans’ exercise of constitutional rights were not violated by the “Pharmacist Responsibility Rule” and the “Delivery Rule” enacted by the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission in 2007. The new ruling reversed a previous decision made by a lower court in 2012.

"After a bench trial, the district court held that the rules violate the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses, and the court permanently enjoined enforcement of the rules because we conclude that the rules are neutral and generally applicable and that the rules rationally further the State's interest in patient safety, we reverse,” wrote Judge Susan P. Graber.

The Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission adopted two new rules in 2007. The “Pharmacist Responsibility Rule” required pharmacies to stock a “representative assortment of drugs in order to meet pharmaceutical needs of patients” and the “Delivery Rule” required pharmacies to “timely deliver all lawfully prescribed medications,” including emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and ella.

“Margo Thelen, Rhonda Mesler, and the Stormans family have worked in the pharmacy profession for over sixty years,” stated the Becket Fund, a law firm dedicated to protecting religious freedom. “Because they believe that life begins at the moment of fertilization, they do not sell the morning-after or week-after contraception pills, which can destroy a fertilized human egg. For them, providing those drugs would be like participating in an abortion.”

Pharmacies that refuse to comply to the 2007 rules are liable to discipline, such as having their licenses revoked. The Stormans contested the rules and filed a lawsuit against the Commission in 2007. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled in favor of the Stormans in Feb. 2012.

“Plaintiffs’ sincerely-held religious beliefs precludes them from dispensing Plan B, which they view as active participation in the destruction of human life,” wrote Leighton in page 13 of his 48-page decision in 2007. “The religious right of conscience they assert (and seek to defend) in this case is qualitatively different than the sincerely held beliefs at issue in countless opinions discussing a state’s regulatory impact on religious practices in the free exercise context.”