San Francisco, CA – The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned a lower court ruling that had temporarily put on hold a Washington State requirement that pharmacists dispense medications to which they are morally opposed. As a result, pharmacists may soon be forced to choose between dispensing abortifacients, including Plan B, or leaving the profession.
The lawsuit was filed by a small grocery and pharmacy in Olympia owned by the Stormans family, as well as two individual pharmacists. The Stormans and the pharmacists have religious objections to stocking or dispensing drugs such as Plan B. The lower court issued an injunction against the new rules, on the basis that the suit was likely to succeed.
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The Ninth Circuit today reversed the injunction, holding that it wrongly considered the debate over the regulations in determining that they targeted pharmacists with religious convictions. The Ninth Circuit said the history of the rules was irrelevant since the text does not specifically mention religious beliefs. As a result, a much lower standard applies, under which the government is virtually assured of prevailing in the case. The Ninth Circuit also said that the injunction was overbroad and, if issued at all, should be limited to the specific plaintiffs—not extended to all pharmacists in the state with religious objections.
Pacific Justice Institute filed an amicus brief in this case, urging the Ninth Circuit to protect pharmacists' rights of conscience. PJI President Brad Dacus commented, "Today’s ruling immediately endangers conscientious pharmacists in Washington State and also strikes a blow at medical professionals throughout the West Coast. The Ninth Circuit's reinstatement of these anti-conscience regulations, despite strong evidence that they targeted people of faith, renders the Free Exercise Clause meaningless."