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Published On: Tue, Jan 5th, 2016

ADF defends Ralph’s Thriftway, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler: pharmacists right to not carry morning after pills

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a pharmacy and two pharmacists are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on Washington state rules that force pharmacy owners and pharmacists to stock and dispense drugs contrary to their religious beliefs instead of allowing them to refer customers to other pharmacies and pharmacists as they are allowed to do in all 49 other states. The state allows referrals for a variety of reasons but singles out religiously motivated referrals as prohibited.

In July of last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court’s decisionagainst the rules, which Planned Parenthood drafted at the behest of former Gov. Christine Gregoire. Gregoire publicly campaigned for the rules and replaced members of the state’s Pharmacy Commission after it initially voted unanimously in favor of such referrals. The American Pharmacists Association and the Washington Pharmacy Association also oppose the rules.

“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. ADF attorneys are lead counsel on behalf of the pharmacy and the two pharmacists in the case, Stormans v. Wiesman. Attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC are serving as co-counsel.

Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive Image/Video Screen Shot

Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive
Image/Video Screen Shot

After a 12-day trial that concluded in 2012, a federal district court in Washington suspended the state’s regulations. The ruling permitted the two pharmacists, Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, and the owners of Stormans, Inc., which runs Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, to continue to refer customers rather than sell the drugs Plan B and ella. The two drugs are widely available in Washington state, including at more than 30 pharmacies within a five mile radius of Ralph’s Thriftway.

“No customer in Washington has ever been denied timely access to any drug due to religiously motivated referral,” the ADF petition to the Supreme Court states. “Nevertheless, in 2007, Washington became the only state to make [this] religious conduct illegal…. After a twelve-day trial, the district court held that the new regulations violate the Free Exercise Clause because they intentionally target religious conduct, have been enforced only against religious conduct, and exempt identical conduct when done for ‘an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons.’”

The state together with attorneys from Planned Parenthood and Legal Voice appealed the district court’s decision to the 9th Circuit, which reversed it.

“The state’s new regulations were primarily drafted by [these] two pro-abortion advocacy groups at the request of Governor Christine Gregoire, who personally boycotted [Ralph’s Thriftway] because of their conscientious objection to abortifacient drugs…,” the ADF petition explains.

As part of her campaign to implement her rules, Gregoire asked Planned Parenthood to work with the State Human Rights Commission in drafting a letter to Pharmacy Commission members that threatened them with personal liability under state antidiscrimination laws if they voted for a regulation that permitted conscience-based referrals, publicly threatened to remove Pharmacy Commission members, asked Planned Parenthood to prepare a new regulation, created a new taskforce that included members of Planned Parenthood to finalize the text of the rule, involved Planned Parenthood in the process of interviewing candidates for the Pharmacy Commission, refused to reappoint the chairman when he seemed resistant to adopt her rules and Planned Parenthood opposed his reappointment, and appointed a new chairman and another commission member that Planned Parenthood recommended.

The new chairman stated, “I for one am never going to vote to allow religion as a valid reason for a facilitated referral,” and advocated prosecuting conscience-based referrals “to the full extent of the law.”

“The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons. In practice, it only bans religiously motivated referrals,” said Stormans, Inc., President Kevin Stormans. “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.”

Planned Parenthood supporters at protest 2011 photo/S. MiRK via wikimedia commons

Planned Parenthood supporters at protest 2011 photo/S. MiRK via wikimedia commons

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