It's a fight that's been going on ever since so-called "morning-after" contraceptives first hit the market. The owners and several pharmacists at Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia say they shouldn't be required to sell the drugs because they consider them a form of abortion. But the Washington State Board of Pharmacy requires pharmacies to "dispense any medication for which there is a community demand." Now the battle has moved to federal court in Tacoma, where opening arguments are underway.
The pharmacy board tried to compromise by amending the rules in 2007 to let pharmacists opt out of filling prescriptions if someone else at their store does it instead. But that's not good enough for co-owner Kevin Stormans and two pharmacists, who are suing for the right to refuse to even stock the medications on grounds of religious conscience.
Supporters argue contraceptives like the one known as "Plan B" only prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb and might help prevent pregnancy if ingested within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The FDA has ruled the medication does not affect existing pregnancies like the drug RU-486.
But Stormans argues he considers "Plan B" to be akin to abortion, and is backed in the federal suit by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., a legal organization that bills itself as a supporter of religious freedom for all faiths.
The Attorney General's office is defending the Department of Health and its right to set state law. The law applies to all medications if there is a community need as determined by regulators, not just the controversial ones like "Plan B."