Pharmacy Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Strike Down State Mandate to Stock Morning-After Pill Despite Religious Objections

Ralphs-compressedSEATTLE, Wash. — The owner of a pharmacy in Washington State, along with two of his pharmacists, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept his appeal of a federal ruling upholding regulations that mandate he stock the morning-after pill despite his religious convictions regarding abortifacients.

As previously reported, in 2006, Ralph’s Thriftway owner, Kevin Stormans, received a call inquiring whether the location sold the morning-after pill. After replying that the pharmacy did not carry it, he began to receive anonymous complaints via phone and email. Ralph’s Thriftway was soon also picketed and complaints were filed with the Washington Board of Pharmacy, which launched an investigation.

The following year, the state passed regulations requiring that pharmacies stock and dispense the morning-after pill, and the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit on behalf of Stormans and two of his pharmacists, Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen, who objected to the requirement because of their Christian faith.

The pharmacy had asked for the right to provide referrals rather than provide Plan B and Ella themselves, but while the regulations allow for referrals for a number of reasons, religious protections are not included.

“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,” said ADF Senior Vice President of Legal Services Kristen Waggoner.

In 2012, a federal court ruled in favor of Ralph’s Thriftway, stating that the new regulations “appear to intentionally place a significant burden on the free exercise of religion for those who believe life begins at conception.”

“[The rules] were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B, and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted. The rules are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs,” it declared.

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But the matter soon moved to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the regulations were placed on hold while the matter proceeded in court. Last July, the court unanimously ruled that Ralph’s Thriftway must stock the drugs despite the pharmacy’s religious objections.

“The rules are rationally related to Washington’s legitimate interest in ensuring that its citizens have safe and timely access to their lawful and lawfully prescribed medications,” Judge Susan Graber wrote for the panel. “Speed is particularly important considering the time-sensitive nature of emergency contraception and of many other medications.”

She said that “the commission’s decision not to allow facilitated referrals falls within its stated goal of ensuring timely and safe delivery of prescription medications and, accordingly, does not demonstrate discriminatory intent.”

Now, Ralph’s Thriftway is asking that the U.S. Supreme Court hear its case.

“The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons. In practice, it only bans religiously motivated referrals,” Stormans said in a statement on Monday. “With more than 30 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store, it is extremely disappointing that the state demands that we violate our conscience or jeopardize our family business.”

“All we are asking is to be able to live out the beliefs that we hold, as Americans have always been able to do, and to be able to refer patients for religious reasons, as the medical and pharmaceutical associations overwhelmingly recommend,” he added.

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  • Josey

    What is interesting to me that the government forced pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes because of the health implications but we now force pharmacies to sell a pill which takes a life of an innocent baby, does anyone see the hypocrisy in this? The scales just don’t weigh out to me. And please spare me the “it’s not a baby spill but a fetus” because it doesn’t matter if you change the name from a baby to a fetus, it is taking of another life who had no choice in making that decision as a person who is 18 yrs of age makes a conscience choice when they purchase cigarettes. And no my point is not advocating cigarettes!

    • Guest

      What government forced pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes? On line search only shows pharmacy chains voluntarily stopping the sale of tobacco products.

      And the ‘morning after pill’ works the same way birth control pills do so for a business to sell one and not the other doesn’t make much sense.

    • April J

      The morning after pill prevents ovulation, which prevents pregnancy. If someone is already pregnant, it does nothing. It is not an abortion pill and no innocent babies lives are taken.

      • Josey

        Really?? Then why is it called an abortion pill if no one is pregnant? Why not just contraceptive device? But that isn’t what it is because pharmacies sell those.

        • April J

          It’s NOT called the abortion pill. YOU might call it that, but that is not it’s name. It is the morning after pill.

          • Josey

            why do you need a “Morning After Pill”? You can’t use birth control the Day Before when you chose to have sex?

          • April J

            Taking only one conventional birth control pill will not provide you with enough hormones to prevent ovulation. The birth control must be taken regularly for at least one whole week before it is effective. The morning after pill is typically used when other forms of birth control fail, such as a condom breaking, or even in such extreme cases as rape/date rape. The morning after pill contains a very high dose of hormones that are much more effective at preventing ovulation than taking simply one regular birth control pill. However, as I mentioned before, if a woman is already ovulating and does not take the pill in time, it is absolutely possible for the egg to be fertilized and for her to become pregnant, without an abortion occurring.

          • Guest

            Josey, that question doesn’t seem reasonable. You need morning after pills because sometimes things happen you didn’t plan. People can’t plan far enough ahead to have a menu, ditto for sex you may not have planned.

            All Plan B does is prevent ovulation. Most people are a bit vague about how human reproduction works but fertilization after sex can happen up to 3 days later and a human ‘egg’ is only viable for 24 hours.

            It really is just trying to prevent or delay an egg from ‘dropping’, it has no effect on an egg that is already in the right place at the right time – that’s why its efficacy is only 70%-80% in preventing a fertilization and subsequent pregnancy.

    • acontraryview

      “What is interesting to me that the government forced pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes ”

      Really? Walgreens still sells them. Are they breaking the law?

      “to sell a pill which takes a life of an innocent baby”

      The pill prevents pregnancy. If a woman is not pregnant, there is no baby/fetus to kill.

  • Nichole Tegg Beaver

    I like to be neutral in most things but when the government refuses a business owner the right to take a stand on an issue – such as a moral conscience issue. Then, I think it’s time to draw the line and tell the government that you believe in God and stand for Godly principals no matter what.

  • acontraryview

    “The owner of a pharmacy in Washington State, along with two of his pharmacists, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept his appeal”

    What? What are the Federal courts doing ruling on matters of state law? Isn’t the Federal courts ruling on state law overstepping their bounds? Doesn’t the federal judiciary ruling on matters of state law make them “activist”? Those were the arguments put forth regarding state marriage laws. Why wouldn’t it apply here?

    • Ambulance Chaser

      I, too, would very much like to hear the answer to this question.

    • Guest

      The ADF representing the pharmacists originally filed their case in a federal court.

  • 201821208 :)

    “Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13 & Deuteronomy 5:17.
    “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment” Matthew 5:21

    • Barrayaran

      So, Christians and Jews are against the death penalty, is that your argument?

      • hytre64

        A better translation is, “Thou shalt not commit murder”. God ordained the taking of life as criminal punishment for certain violations of the law.

        The difference is that these children are innocent of any violation of the law and have not even had due process before their mothers are putting them to death.

        • Barrayaran

          What children? As has been repeatedly stated, the “morning after pill” doesn’t terminate pregnancy — it prevents it by preventing ovulation. Do you really not understand that?

          • hytre64

            One thing that the “Morning After Pill” does is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

          • Barrayaran

            No, it doesn’t. You’re confusing Plan B, Levonorgestrel, with RU-486, aka mifepristone.

            Fertilization can occur up to 5 days after intercourse. Plan B prevents ovulation, so that fertilization can’t occur. If ovulation has already occurred, Plan B won’t affect fertilization.

          • hytre64

            Look at plan B’s website. They DO say that it will prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

          • Barrayaran

            Do you even fact-check your own statements? There is no “plan B website” — there are multiple products on the market that are called “plan B” for the sake of clarification. And none of the ones I checked made that claim.

            The scientific logic behind this treatment is that it tricks the reproductive system into not ovulating. There is NO EVIDENCE that it works any other way.

            What you and the other hair-splitters are demanding is evidence that the treatment never impacts the attachment of a fertilized ovum to the uterine lining. This is practically impossible to prove, just as it’s practically impossible to prove that riding a horse or a motorcycle within 24 hours of sex doesn’t do so, or sitting in a hot tub, or going water-skiing. There’s zero compelling evidence any of these activities would have that effect, but it could be happening. You’re asking for proof of a negative.

            And frankly, once again, this is about people who don’t want to do their jobs, not about your moral beliefs. If you don’t want to use plan B, don’t use it. If you don’t approve of it, don’t enter a profession where you can reasonably expect you’ll be required to provide it. A devout Hindu can’t reasonably expect to work in a restaurant and not serve beef because it’s against her beliefs when it was always clear from the menu that steak was going to be served at some point. No one made her become a server in a restaurant with that menu, and no one forced these pharmacists into their field.

  • I just have to say…I’m an ACLU liberal (you can check out my comments all over under Skeptacular or Ted Haigh to prove it) and I’m steadfastly with you on this one. To me, it’s different than refusing to perform a service for some people and not others. I’m against that. But when the government presumes to tell you what inventory and products you are required to stock in your private business, even in my book, that’s governmental overreach. If you stock something, you have to sell it to anyone eligible for it. But if you don’t stock it, that also treats everyone equally. How the government thinks they can direct what you MUST stock and sell…I hope SCOTUS finds against that. Good Luck! –Ted.

  • hytre64

    Next the Washington State government would demand that *all* doctors perform abortion on demand – regardless of their personal convictions.