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Washington State Moves to Allow Pharmacies to Refuse to Dispense EC

Written by Amie Newman for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In Washington State, a small group of pharmacists are putting on the pressure to allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense medication to which they object - and the State Board  of Pharmacy seems to be bending over backwards to do all they can to help them do so.

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy has voted 3-2, according to the News Tribune, to move ahead with a reversal of a 2007 rule that prevented pharmacies from refusing to dispense certain legal medication – including emergency contraception (EC) for the women of Washington State.

When the rule was first implemented (with the support of the state’s Governor Christine Gregoire) - to ensure that anyone who needed timely access to legal medication from a pharmacy could get it -  owners of a grocery store, Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, WA, responded with a lawsuit. The owners of the store refuse to carry Plan B (the brand name under which emergency contraception is sold) out of “moral opposition” to the drug. While the majority of pharmacists don’t have a problem with dispensing emergency contraception, there are some who seem to feel that that the medical community’s “evidence” that EC is actually contraception gets in the way of their personal opinion that it’s actually an abortifacient. Further, they feel that regardless of the safety, legality and FDA approval (PDF), women simply don’t deserve access to this medication.

The issue has been dragging on for years with public support firmly on the side of ensuring access to Plan B at pharmacies in the state, and a 2009 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in regards to an injunction against the rules, which held that the rules “do not aim to suppress, target, or single out in any way the practice of religion, but, rather, their objective was to increase access to all lawfully prescribed medications.”

But instead of allowing the case to go to court, where this small group of pharmacists attempting to stand in the way of women’s access to Plan B was likely to have lost, the state Attorney General stepped in to negotiate a settlement. The AG said that pharmacists should be able to “conscientiously object” to dispensing emergency contraception and refer women elsewhere. Yeah, it didn’t work for most of the residents of Washington State either. Read more