Pharmacists ask U.S. Supreme Court to protect their conscience rights

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( – A family-owned pharmacy and two individual pharmacists petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to stop a state law that compels pharmacies and individual pharmacists in Washington State to provide abortion-inducing drugs despite conscience objections.

The 2007 Washington law requires pharmacists to dispense all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a “timely manner consistent with reasonable expectations,” with no exceptions for conscience-based referrals for abortion inducing drugs.

Washington is the only state that currently makes conscience-based referrals illegal.

The petition to the Supreme Court comes after a long battle with Washington over this law which, according to the Becket Fund, “was passed in a cloud of controversy, with then-Governor Christine Gregoire threatening to terminate the State Pharmacy Commission and replacing commission members with new ones recommended by abortion-rights activists.”

The Stormans family owns Ralph’s Thriftway, a grocery store that includes a small pharmacy. The family, in keeping with their Christian beliefs, “cannot stock or dispense the morning-after or week-after pills (collectively, “Plan B”),” according to the petition, “For Petitioners, dispensing these drugs would make them guilty of destroying human life.”

The petition points out that, “Within five miles of Ralph’s, over thirty pharmacies carry Plan B. Plan B is also available from nearby doctors’ offices, government health centers, emergency rooms, Planned Parenthood, a toll-free hotline, and the Internet. As of 2013, the morning-after pill is also available on grocery and drug-store shelves without a prescription.”

The petitioners are Stormans, Inc., doing business as Ralph’s Thriftway, Rhonda Mesler, and Margo Thelen.

Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler are individual pharmacists with similar objections to dispensing abortion-inducing drugs. They have worked in the pharmacy profession for a combined 70 years. When a customer requests an abortion-inducing drug, they refer the customer to one of over 30 pharmacies within five miles that willingly sell the drugs.

Margo Thelen lost her job because of the law and Rhonda Mesler reportedly was threatened with losing hers, stated the Becket Fund.

The petitioners sued initially in July 2007 to prevent implementation of the law and, following a five-year litigation process, a federal judge struck down the law in February 2012, ruling that the regulation violated First Amendment rights.

“The Board’s regulations have been aimed at Plan B and conscientious objections from their inception,” the court explained. “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).”

However, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals reversed that decision last July being “unconvinced that the right to own, operate, or work at a licensed professional business free from regulations requiring the business to engage in activities that one sincerely believes leads to the taking of human life is ‘so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.’”

The Becket Fund, along with the Alliance Defending Freedom, jointly filed a writ of certiorari on Monday on behalf of the Stormans, as well as for Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen.

“No one should be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” said  Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund. “We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will step in and strike down this blatant discrimination against people of faith.”

Written by Lauretta Brown