Yesterday a federal judge ruled that Washington State cannot require pharmacists to dispense “emergency contraceptives”—such as Plan B and ella—against their religious convictions. In 2007 the state’s Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations stating that pharmacists cannot refuse to fill a prescription for the drugs based on religious beliefs, although other, non-religious reasons can be cited for not dispensing the medications. This difference—the discrimination against those who refuse to fill the prescription for religious reasons—was ruled by Judge Ronald B. Leighton to be unconstitutional.
“The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable,” Judge Leighton stated. “They were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted.”
“While the board allows pharmacies to refuse to stock drugs for countless secular reasons, the board will investigate if a religious objector refuses to stock Plan B for a religious reason,” the judge noted.
“The Board of Pharmacy has interpreted the rules to ensure that the burden falls squarely and almost exclusively on religious objectors.”
“A regulation is not constitutional when the government applies it in a selective, discriminatory manner, thus singling out the plaintiffs’ religiously motivated conduct,” Judge Leighton explained.
“When the government enforces a law against religious conduct but not similar secular conduct, it devalues religious reasons by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious reasons. This is exactly what has occurred here.”
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