On Thursday, lawyers presented arguments in a case involving a decision by the state of Washington to force a pharmacy to provide the Plan B emergency contraceptive even if they have moral or religious objections.
The arguments came more than seven years after the state Pharmacy Board ruled that pharmacies could not refuse to sell a lawful product such as Plan B because of those personal beliefs. Two pharmacists and a pharmacy owner sued the state, arguing their constitutional rights were being violated by the requirement.
The pharmacy argued that the drug is like an abortion, and prescribing it could impinge on the religious freedom of a pharmacist. The drug is available at many other pharmacies nearby and patients don’t suffer when they are referred elsewhere.
The pharmacy won in U.S. District Court in 2012, but the state has appealed.
Referrals are at the center of the appeal. The pharmacy contends that simply refusing to fill a prescription for emergency contraceptive and referring patients to another pharmacy is a fair an acceptable practice. The state says disagrees and thinks it could be problematic in certain rural areas.
There are many dangers in this practice, could pharmacies refuse to fill HIV medications or erectile dysfunction medications next?
Plan B is simply a high dose of a drug found in many birth-control pills that prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg. Plan B should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. Plan B is available without prescription to women 17 and older.
When purchasing Plan B, they must request this at the pharmacy counter and show identification with their date of birth. Anyone too young to qualify for over-the-counter sales needs a prescription from a licensed physician.
A compromise rule was adopted that allowed individual pharmacists who had moral objections to pass the sale to another employee in the same store, provided the patient’s order was filled without delay.
But this leaves few options for a lone pharmacist or pharmacy owner who has moral objections to a particular drug.
This battle over Plan continues on, while patients access to a lawful and legal medication may be compromised.