SEATTLE, 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.
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.