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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious freedom to discriminate prohibited.

Part 1 of two parts:

Courts find a Washington state law
that prohibits discrimination by
pharmacies to be constitutional:

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2007 to 2012: Background:

During 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy established a rule requiring all pharmacies to stock and dispense common prescription medication even if the pharmacy owner or pharmacist objects to religious grounds to one or more medications. 1,2

Kevin and Greg Storman are licensed pharmacists at Ralph's Thriftway in western Washington. 3 It is a family-owned grocery store and pharmacy in Olympia, WA. They filed a lawsuit with their U.S. District Court, claiming that the Board's rule requiring them to dispense Plan B would infringe on their personal religious beliefs. 1 The lawsuit is called Stormans v. Wiesman."

This position is supported by by many evangelical Christians, other religious conservatives, and members of the pro-life movement.

They generally believe that:

  • Spermatozoon and a human ovum are forms of human life because they are alive and contain human DNA. However, they are not human persons.

  • Pregnancy begins during the process of conception when an ovum is fertilized and becomes a zygote. They generally consider a zygote to be a human person.

  • Any medication or procedure that terminates the subsequent development of a zygote into an embryo, fetus, and newborn is considered a form of abortion which murders a human baby.

  • Emergency contraceptives (EC) can prevent the zygote from implanting itself in the wall of the uterus. This causes the zygote to die and be expelled from the woman's body.

  • Emergency contraceptives can be abortifacients; they can cause the death of a human person.

When ECs were first developed, researchers were uncertain about how they operated. They initially speculated that they might:

  • Delay ovulation,
  • Inhibit conception, and/or
  • Prevent implantation.

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After further study, researchers concluded that EC's work only by the first two mechanisms. If conception had already occurred, then EC might even promote implantation. However, to this day, many religious conservatives reject these findings. Many conservative information sources say that ECs can work as abortifacients; some claim that they are abortifacients and thus kill a human person. For example:
  • The National Catholic Register referred to the Washington:

    ".. state rule requiring pharmacists to dispense Plan B, the 'emergency contraceptive' that is also an abortifacient..." 4

  • The Heritage Foundation's "Daily Signal" referred to:

    "... dispensing drugs such as Plan B that they believe aid in the destruction of human life." 5

Some pharmacists have concluded that by dispensing EC medication, they may be personally involved in facilitating a murder.

During 2007-NOV, U.S. District Court Judge Leighton granted a temporary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs saying that:

"... the regulations appear to target religious practice in a way forbidden by the Constitution ... [and] appear to intentionally place a significant burden on the free exercise of religion for those who believe life begins at conception." 4

In reality, human life begins about a month before conception when one very lucky spermatozoon is released into a man's vas deferens tube. It is generally regarded as human life because it contains human DNA and is widely considered to be alive -- even if for no other reason than it is a very active swimmer. The fundamental question is not when human life begins. Rather it is when a form of human life becomes a human person and thus gains legal protections including the right to life.

There is no consensus on when this happens. Individuals have argued that human personhood begins:

  • During the process of conception,
  • When the blastocyst implants itself in the wall of the uterus,
  • When the embryo's heart starts beating,
  • When it loses its tail and gill slits,
  • When the fetus first becomes sentient and aware of its surroundings,
  • When it has half emerged from its mother's body,
  • When its fallopian tube is cut and it is breathing on its own,
  • After birth when it is given a name, and
  • at various other points between conception and birth.

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2012-FEB: The U.S. District Court issued a decision which created an exception to the Board of Pharmacy's 2007 rule.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton found in favor of the plaintiffs. He stated,

"... the most compelling evidence that the rules target religious conduct is the fact the rules contain numerous secular exemptions. In sum, the rules exempt pharmacies and pharmacists from stocking and delivering lawfully prescribed drugs for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons, but fail to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience." 1

Note that he is clearly referring to religious conduct, not religious belief!

Kelsey Harkness, writing for The Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal said that the District Court:

"... struck down the law as unconstitutional. The court found 'abundant evidence' that the law was designed to force religious pharmacists and pharmacy owners to violate their faith." 3

That ruling 6 was later appealed to a three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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2015-JUL: The Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's ruling and upheld the state rule.

The panel of Jusges noted that the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Committee had not received any complaints that pharmacies weren't stocking certain medications:

  • "... because of a fear of criminal activity,

  • because they required too much administrative paperwork, or

  • were too expensive."

However, 24 complaints since 2006 had been received citing the the two plaintiffs' pharmacy of as having turning women away who were seeking EC.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Washington state to require pharmacies to stock Plan B. Ninth Circuit ruling requires provision of emergency contraceptives," Modern Medicine, 2015-SEP-10, at: http://drugtopics.modernmedicine.com/
  2. Kelsey Harkness, "Justice Alito: 'Those Who Value Religious Freedom Have Cause for Great Concern'," The Daily Signal, 2016-JUN-28, at: http://dailysignal.com/
  3. Trent Beattie, "2 Women Defeat Washington Plan B Law," National Catholic Register, 2011-FEB-23, at: http://www.ncregister.com/
  4. "Rules Comment," Washington State Department of Health, 2010, at: https://fortress.wa.gov/
  5. Robert Barnes, "Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to rule that pharmacies dispense emergency contraception," Washington Post, 2016-JUN-28, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  6. R.B. Leighton, "Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman, U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, 2012-FEB-22, at: http://www.becketfund.org/

Some of the paths to this essay:

 Home page > Sex > Emergency Contraceptives > here

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Sex > Emergency Contraceptives > here

 Home page > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Sex > Emergency Contraceptives > here

or Home page > Christianity > History, practices... > Christian practices > Sex > Emergency Contraceptives > here

or Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

or Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

or Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

or Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Freedom to discriminate > here

Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-JUL-03
Latest update : 2016-JUL-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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