Pharmacists can’t claim religion to deny emergency contraception, appeals court …

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The state of Washington can require a pharmacy to deliver medicine even if the pharmacy’s owner has a religious objection, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, the latest in a series of judgments on whether religious believers can opt out of providing services.

The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, came in a case filed by pharmacists who objected to delivering emergency contraceptives. The 9th Circuit overturned a lower court that had said the rules were unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed closely held corporations to seek exemptions from the Obamacare health law’s contraception requirement.

In Washington, the state permits a religiously objecting individual pharmacist to deny medicine, as long as another pharmacist working at the location provides timely delivery. The rules require a pharmacy to deliver all medicine, even if the owner objects.

A unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel on Thursday decided that the rules are constitutional because they rationally further the state’s interest in patient safety. Speed is particularly important considering the time-sensitive nature of emergency contraception, the court said.

“The time taken to travel to another pharmacy, especially in rural areas where pharmacies are sparse, may reduce the efficacy of those drugs,” wrote Judge Susan Graber.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a statement, called the decision a “major victory for the people of Washington.”

“Decisions regarding medical care – including reproductive rights – are appropriately between a patient and his or her medical professionals,” Ferguson said.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Legal Services for the group Alliance Defending Freedom, said the pharmacists would appeal the ruling.

“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,” Waggoner said in a statement.

About the author



Click here to post a comment

  • Interesting… this ruling is in the interest of separating religious or moral beliefs from medicine, but the Hippocratic Oath does anything but.

    “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.”

  • The Hippocratic oath also is directed to Apollo and a number of other greek Gods. I’m pretty sure we’ve moved beyond it.

  • not when it comes to scrambling for any excuse to use religion against the patients they’ve taken an oath to treat. 😀

  • Emergency contraception is not a pessary; it takes sperm up to three days for it to attach to an egg for implantation, emergency contraception basically floods a woman’s system with a high dose of hormones to inhibit a woman’s ovulation. Fun fact: the medicine even has a disclaimer that says that it doesn’t effect women who are already pregnant. If you need more information about the difference between birth control and an abortion, maybe you should consider retaking 7th grade sex ed.

  • At no point in the history of the Hippocratic Oath has there ever been the quote you offered about pessaries.

  • The Pharmacist’s Oath is similar yet different from the various versions of the Hippocratic Oath in use today:

    “At this time, I vow to devote my professional life to the service of all humankind through the professionof pharmacy.

    I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns.

    I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal drug therapy outcomes for the patients I serve.

    I will keep abreast of developments and maintain professional competency in my profession of pharmacy. I will maintain the highest principles of moral, ethical and legal conduct.

    I will embrace and advocate change in the profession of pharmacy that improves patient care.

    I take these vows voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.”

    I don’t see any direct proscription in there about abortion drugs or pessaries.

    If I’m a pharmacist and the owner of the company directs me not to sell “a contraceptive” , and I do because of the law, and he fires me for not following his direct order, I’m out of a job??
    So my action would be to sue the owner to get relief, ?? WHO PAYS MY BILLS, MY MORTGAGE, MEDICAL BILLS, KIDS TUITION?

    Is this my only senario?

  • Retaliatory termination is always a good reason for a lawsuit. Plus you are collecting unemployment since you did not quit.

    Its a silly scenario because if an entire company wants to avoid selling a particular drug, they can always just refuse to stock it, negating the option entirely for the pharmacist.

    If an individual pharmacist, acting on their own accord, wants to refuse to serve a customer, the state laws do not permit them unless there is someone else present to do it. You cannot compel others to live by your religious convictions directly or indirectly. Nobody needs to be forced to navigate the individual peccadilloes of the religious beliefs of others to obtain goods and services available to the public.

  • While many Christian versions of the Hippocratic Oath, particularly from the middle-ages, explicitly prohibited abortion, the prohibition is often omitted from many oaths taken in US medical schools today.

  • Finallly, a victory for common sense. If your religious beliefs prevent you from personally taking a specific kind of medication, then that’s fine. What you need to realize is that not everyone will hold the same beliefs. Fill the prescription and get on your with your life. If you can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time to fine a new line of work.

  • Mike, that’s the old version that’s no longer followed. You can google the modern version if you want to know what it says (note: abortion isn’t mentioned).

  • Depending on where one lives, 7th grade sex ed may be only a religiously motivated abstinence lecture. I do wish the schools would teach accurate, up-to-date medical information.

  • Quit being a pharmacist if you have so much angst about this. First of all I suggest you do your damn job and research the drug. I have been an RN for 40 years, in addition I am a educated hospital chaplain. I have spent years on ER in big trauma centers as well as leadership roles in hospital administration. How would it feel to you if I didn’t treat you appropriately because I didn’t agree with your religious beliefs?..And, incidentally, I don’t! How would you feel treating a child molester with the child screaming in the next room with a ripped vagina?
    The main statement of the NT is love your neighbor as yourself….and ” God is love, he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”. Ya see, I think Jesus would sit down with a woman in that situation and ask her what she needs to make better decisions. God did not give you permission to judge people! The heck with your mortgage…how about losing your soul.

  • Well said, Chaplain!

    My own view is that emergency contraception, and abortion, are acts of self-defense, in which a woman protects herself from what the invading male sexual secretions could do to her.

    We allow religious pacifists, who object on moral grounds, to carrying a gun, not to take up occupations such as soldier, police officer, or bodyguard, where they would be expected to carry a gun and use it.

    If someone has the same religious objections to a medicine that prevents conception, they have the same right not to take part in an occupation that would require them to break the laws of their chosen religion.

    What the 9th Circuit addresses here is a different issue altogether.

    If I object on religious grounds, to the hiring of armed guards, and I choose to exercise that objection during a bank robbery, by driving the getaway car, am I guilty of bank robbery? Most jurors would say so.

  • Until there’s good research, not paid for by an industry that profits off the death of embryos or a government that’s philosophically committed to the destruction of human life, that shows emergency contraception ALWAYS prevents fertilization, and doesn’t occasionally allow it and then just stop implantation, pro-lifers will never consider it “medicine.”

  • So you want to continue lying and misrepresenting the effects of a drug because it does not conform to your beliefs. Pro-lifers may not consider it medicine, but their opinion is not the same as medical knowledge accepted in the field.

    Its also typical of how ridiculous the anti-abortion POV can be as well. To oppose abortion and forms of contraception puts one at cross purposes if they have rational goals. But one has never accused people with such views as being rational.

  • Note from another Chaplain, I consider the filling of a prescription for a “morning after” pill an act of human caring. There are so many children in the U.S. who are unwanted and not loved. Children who are born to women who can barely take care of themselves much less take on care of their child. Yes, I think Jesus would sit down and talk about choices. The men single or married to brag and glorify themselves because they got a women pregnant, with taking no responsibility for that child. I’ve counseled women with so little self esteem who said their “man” wouldn’t use a rubber because he didn’t like it’s feel.

    While I believe in strongly in religious freedom, it seems the pharmacist in question is mislead in thinking it is an abortion pill.

    Isn’t there drugs stores on most every corner in many towns across America?

  • Mike, I have no idea where you found that version of the Hippocratic Oath – there are a number of version in use but none of them, repeat none of them, include any mention of pessaries.

  • So, are you saying that you treat people differently because of their religious beliefs or crimes, or that you don’t? If you are, you shouldn’t be a nurse… If your religion interferes with your profession, take up a different profession, especially where it comes to saving lives.

  • Do you mean to infer that the owner would even stock any contraceptive drugs in his/her store?
    Be real!

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.