Pharmacists ask Supreme Court to block state birth control rule

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A family-owned pharmacy is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a recent ruling that says drug stores in Washington state cannot refuse to sell emergency contraception for religious reasons.

The pharmacists filed a brief Monday arguing that they cannot fill prescriptions for certain birth control methods, like the Plan B pill, “without violating their religious beliefs.”

A lower court had sided with the pharmacists in 2012, after five years of litigation in the wake of the 2007 regulation. That district court ruled that the regulations illegally targeted those who had religious objections to birth control.

But that decision was reversed by an appeals panel in July 2015, deciding that the pharmacists were not unfairly targeted by the rules. The appeals panel also stressed the timeliness of emergency contraceptives as “particularly important,” given the need to take the medication as soon as possibly after unprotected sex to be effective.

“The time taken to travel to another pharmacy, especially in rural areas where pharmacies are sparse, may reduce the efficacy of those drugs,” one of the appeals judges, Susan P. Graber, wrote for the panel. It was the second time the appeals court had reversed the district judge’s ruling.

In their brief, the pharmacists called that decision a “dangerous intrusion” on the rights of healthcare providers to “step aside when asked to participate in what they consider to be an abortion.”

The case has been backed by the D.C.-based legal group, Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which calls the regulation “a blatant discrimination against people of faith.”  

“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 for Religious Liberty.

Supporters of Washington state’s law, such as the National Women’s Law Center, say a growing number of pharmacies have refused to sell birth control and are instead referring patients to other locations.

" These refusals can have devastating consequences for women’s health," according to a fact sheet from the National Women's Law Center.