Judge rules pharmacists can refuse to sell emergency contraception

In yet another victory for “religious conscience” at the expense of women’s health, a federal judge struck down Washington State’s law requiring pharmacies to stock emergency contraception. The AP reports:

Washington state cannot force pharmacies to sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying the state’s true goal was to suppress religious objections by druggists–not to promote timely access to the medicines for people who need them.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton heard closing arguments earlier this month in a lawsuit that claimed state rules violate the constitutional rights of pharmacists by requiring them to dispense such medicine. The state requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients.

This is bullshit. The state had a very compelling reason for the requirement: As we all know, EC gets less effective over time and in rural areas there may not be another pharmacy for miles. And pharmacists who don’t believe in birth control or erroneously think that EC is an abortifacient were free to pass the prescription off to coworker who would fill it. As the Seattle Times wrote in an editorial calling on the state to appeal the ruling, this decision “sends a message that pharmacists’ personal views can take priority over patients’ rights.”

It’s a message we’re seeing all over the place these days. Roy Blunt’s amendment that would basically allow employers to decide what kind of health care coverage you get based on their own “moral convictions” is expected to come up for a vote next week–and we already have a hint of what that would mean. Meanwhile, seven states have filed a lawsuit claiming that the no-cost birth control coverage mandate violates the rights of religious employers.

Remember: The Obama administration already accommodated those concerns by shifting the cost of the coverage from the employer to the insurance companies. One more time: religious employers are not required to pay for birth control coverage for their employees. Yet seven states have rushed to defend their “right” to prevent their employees from receiving that benefit from an insurance company. As Digby noted recently, religious conscience protections used to be about defending individual rights. Now they’re being wielded to allow religious institutions to force their own beliefs upon individuals.

It’s an upside-down world where pharmacists’ refusal rights supersede patients’ rights to timely care and the conscience of religious institutions trumps the rights of the individuals–religious or not–to access the health care coverage they need, overwhelming want, and are entitled to under federal law.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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