Appeals Court Ruling Favors Access To Contraceptives In Washington State

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Washington state regulation meant to ensure patient access to emergency contraceptives from pharmacies.


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 8 that a lower court erred when it blocked a Washington state rule requiring pharmacies to make available “Plan B” morning-after pills.


Americans United hailed the appellate court move, saying it counters Religious Right interference with Americans’ personal lives and health care.


Many Religious Right groups oppose distribution of Plan B (Levonestrel), arguing it is a form of abortion. If taken within 72 after having unprotected sex, the pills can often prevent pregnancy.


Controversy has flared in a number of states where anti-abortion pharmacists have refused to stock or fill prescriptions for Plan B, claiming that doing so would violate their right of conscience.


The Washington battle goes back to 2007, when the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group, sued on behalf of a pharmacy owner and two pharmacists. They argued that the regulation violates pharmacists’ religious freedom rights, even though under the rules, a pharmacist who objects can pass the prescription on to a colleague at the same store.


After the district court ruled in favor of the pharmacists, Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, asking the appellate panel to overturn the decision, which it did.


The 9th Circuit panel sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings but strongly suggested that the Washington state regulations are constitutional and in the best interest of the patients.


The appellate court also said that the regulation did not unfairly single out those with religious beliefs and that requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions in a timely manner is a neutral rule that does not target religious beliefs for negative treatment.


“The appeals court has done the right thing,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “States have every right to set policies that guarantee patients’ access to medical care.


“The Religious Right and its allies have been waging war on women’s access to reproductive health services,” he continued. “This is one battle that they have now lost.”