Pharmacies Can’t Use Religious Belief as Exemption from Dispensing Medication Says Court of Appeals


Ruling says pharmacists need to do their job, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.

The San Francisco Court of Appeals strengthened existing Washington state laws by ruling that pharmacies can’t deny selling and delivering medications to customers on the basis of the owners’ or pharmacists’ religious belief.

In Washington State, a pharmacist may be allowed to deny selling and delivering medicine to a customer as long as there’s a co-worker who can provide the service in his/her place. But these rules were questioned when in 2007; pharmacists at Ralph’s Thriftway filed a court case and argued that such rules violate pharmacists’ right to religious freedom. The pharmacists earlier have denied delivering birth control medications based on their faith.

In 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton resolved the case in favor of the pharmacists. The judge pointed that the extra requirements of the Washington state rules are tantamount to a violation of religious freedom.

The case was escalated to the Court of Appeals which on July 23, 2015, has overthrown the decision of the U.S. District Court. The resolution cites that existing Washington laws that compel pharmacies to sell medicine especially those with prescription is not discriminatory to any religious belief. Additionally, Court of Appeals Judge Susan Graber explains that selling medications is vital especially in countryside or areas where pharmacies are only few or when the distance from one store to another is considerable. The efficiencies of those drugs would be lower, in the case of time-sensitive emergency contraceptives.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson is pleased with the decision and calls it a “major victory for the people of Washington”. He insisted that medical and health care decisions should only be an issue between the patient and his or her doctor.

The case essentially revolves around the selling of abortion and contraceptive medicines. The most common of which is the “morning after pill” or Plan B which aims to prevent pregnancy right after sexual intercourse. According to doctors, the pill is most effective if taken within 24 hours from intercourse although intended for use up to 72 hours. It’s an emergency contraception that essentially became a factor in the recent court ruling.

Although contraception and abortion is legal in the United States, there are still pharmacies which refuse to accommodate selling these medications to customers even those with a valid prescription on the grounds of the owners’ or pharmacists’ religious beliefs.

Another issue which has long been the subject of many debates is the question about when abortion is really committed. The far right or conservative groups claim that interfering with fertilization is already abortion while the medical field, the courts, and those in favor of contraception believe that abortion is only committed when fertilization is already completed and the fetus has already formed.

The above case is not on its end yet, according to the Ralph’s Thriftway management, there are now plans to bring the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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