Home February 2016 Will Washington pharmacy case go to High Court?

Will Washington pharmacy case go to High Court?

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The long-running legal battle over whether pro-life pharmacists here must act against their beliefs by providing abortion-inducing drugs could wind up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the pharmacy at Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia and two pharmacists last month asked the High Court to weigh in on Washington state rules that force pharmacy owners and pharmacists to stock and dispense drugs contrary to their religious beliefs instead of allowing them to refer customers to other pharmacies and pharmacists, as they are allowed to do in all 49 other states.
The state allows referrals for a variety of reasons but singles out religiously motivated referrals as prohibited.
Last July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision against the rules, which Planned Parenthood drafted at the behest of former Gov. Christine Gregoire. Gre-goire publicly campaigned for the rules and replaced members of the state’s Pharmacy Commission after it initially voted unanimously in favor of such referrals. The American Pharmacists Association and the Washington Phar-macy Association also oppose the rules.
“No one should be forced to choose between their religious convictions and their family businesses and livelihoods, particularly when the state allows referrals for just about any other reason,” said ADF Senior Vice President of Legal Services Kristen Waggoner. ADF attorneys are lead counsel on behalf of the pharmacy and the two pharmacists in the case, Stormans v. Wiesman. Attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC are serving as co-counsel.
After a 12-day trial that concluded in 2012, a federal district court in Washington suspended the state’s regulations. The ruling permitted the two pharmacists, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, and the owners of Stormans, Inc., which runs Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, to continue to refer customers rather than sell the drugs Plan B and ella. The two drugs are widely available in Wash-ington state, including at more than 30 pharmacies within a five-mile radius of Ralph’s Thriftway.
“No customer in Wash-ington has ever been denied timely access to any drug due to religiously motivated referral,” the ADF petition to the Supreme Court states. “Nevertheless, in 2007, Washington became the only state to make (this) religious conduct illegal…. After a 12-day trial, the district court held that the new regulations violate the Free Exercise Clause because they intentionally target religious conduct, have been enforced only against religious conduct, and exempt identical conduct when done for ‘an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons.’ ”
The state, together with attorneys from Planned Parenthood and Legal Voice, appealed the district court’s decision to the 9th Circuit, which reversed it.
“The state’s new regulations were primarily drafted by (these) two pro-abortion advocacy groups at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire, who personally boycotted (Ralph’s Thriftway) be-cause of their conscientious objection to abortifacient drugs…,” the ADF petition explains.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, Gregoire, as part of her campaign to implement her rules:
•asked Planned Parenthood to work with the State Human Rights Com-mission in drafting a letter to Pharmacy Commission members that threatened them with personal liability under state antidiscrimination laws if they voted for a regulation that permitted conscience-based referrals; •publicly threatened to remove Pharmacy Com-mission members;
•asked Planned Pa-renthood to prepare a new regulation;
•created a new taskforce that included members of Planned Parenthood to finalize the text of the rule;
•involved Planned Parenthood in the process of interviewing candidates for the Pharmacy Com-mission;
•refused to reappoint the chairman when he seemed resistant to adopt her rules and Planned Parenthood opposed his reappointment;
•and appointed a new chairman and another commission member that Planned Parenthood recommended.
The new chairman stated, “I, for one, am never going to vote to allow religion as a valid reason for a facilitated referral,” and advocated prosecuting conscience-based referrals “to the full extent of the law.”
“The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons. In practice, it only bans religiously motivated referrals,” said Stormans, Inc., President Kevin Stormans. “With more than 30 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store, it is extremely disappointing that the state demands that we violate our conscience or jeopardize our family business.
“All we are asking is to be able to live out the beliefs that we hold, as Americans have always been able to do, and to be able to refer patients for religious reasons, as the medical and pharmaceutical associations overwhelmingly recommend,” Stormans added.
Based in Arizona, Alliance Defending Freedom is a non-profit legal organization that advocates nationwide for the right of people to freely live out their faith.