Pharmacy’s religious claim rejected

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 denied an appeal by a Washington pharmacy that cited Christian beliefs in objecting to providing emergency contraceptives to women.

The justices kept in place a July 2015 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a state regulation requiring pharmacies to deliver in a timely manner all prescribed drugs, including contraceptives.

Three conservative justices (Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas) argued that the court should have agreed to hear the appeal by the Stormans family, which owns Ralph’s Thriftway grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia.

“When a woman walks into a pharmacy, she should not fear being turned away because of the religious beliefs of the owner or the person behind the counter,” said Louise Melling, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Washington allows a religiously objecting pharmacist to deny medicine as long as another pharmacist on site provides timely delivery. The rules require a pharmacy to deliver all medicine, even if a pharmacist or pharmacy objects.

In 2014, the Supreme Court allowed certain businesses to object on religious grounds to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies provide employees with insurance that pays for women’s contraceptives. The court in May sent a similar dispute brought by nonprofit Christian employers back to lower courts without resolving the main legal issue.

The Stormans family is made up of devout Christians who associate “morning after” emergency contraceptives with abortion. Thirty-eight state and national pharmacy associations had urged the court to take up the case, saying pharmacies generally get to choose what products they stock.

The appeals court said the rules further the state’s interest in patient safety, as speed is particularly important considering the time-sensitive nature of emergency contraception.

Freedom From Religion Foundation