October 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Americans United has asked a federal appeals court to find that pharmacies do not have the right to opt out of filling certain prescriptions on religious or moral grounds.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in a Washington state case, Americans United urged the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow state officials to enforce a rule that requires pharmacies to stock and fill prescriptions for the so-called “morning-after” pill, also known as Plan B.

“Religious freedom is for people, not corporations,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Pharmacies are businesses, and they should not have the right to impose religion on anyone.”

The case arose after the Stormans family, which owns the Olympia-based Ralph’s Thriftway, announced it would not carry the medication because the owners of the grocery store say Plan B violates their religious beliefs.

The state Pharmacy Board pointed out that there is local demand for the drug, which is often given to victims of sexual assault, and ordered all pharmacies to carry it. The order was part of a larger 2007 regulation requiring pharmacies to stock medications if there is a local demand for them.

The Pharmacy Board had been investigating Ralph’s Thriftway for refusing to stock Plan B, but that investigation halted when the store’s owners filed a lawsuit.

Americans United cited several reasons in its brief why a district court decision in favor of the pharmacy should be reversed. The brief noted that the state regulations at issue strike a balance between the religious freedom of pharmacists and that of their patients because individual pharmacists may opt out of filling prescriptions, but pharmacies may not.   

The Sept. 4 brief also argues that the regulations impose little burden on religious practice and allow for the objections of individual pharmacists. The regulations are also not motivated by hostility toward religion; instead, they advance a compelling governmental interest by ensuring that patients can obtain medications in a timely manner.

“The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment should [not] be used as a sword to impose the beliefs of one faith upon those who do not share the faith,” the brief says. “That curtails religious freedom instead of advancing it.”

The case is Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky.