By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
OLYMPIA, Wash. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a case on access to emergency contraception in Washington state.
The ruling upholds the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that stocking emergency contraception in pharmacies does not violate a pharmacist’s religious freedom. Pharmacists still can refuse to prescribe the contraceptives based on their religious beliefs.
For women in the state, said Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, “what we hope it means is that all pharmacies will be stocking emergency contraception and fulfilling all prescriptions so women can make their own decisions about their reproductive health, not religious pharmacists.”
In 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy put regulations in place that required pharmacies to stock emergency contraceptions but allowed individuals to refuse to prescribe the drugs. Since then, Plan B and other time-sensitive contraceptive methods have become available over the counter and often are covered by health-care insurance in the state.
Justice Samuel Alito issued a scathing dissent to the court’s refusal to hear Stormans vs. Wiesman, saying it was an “ominous sign” for religious freedom. The Stormans, religious owners of Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, said there were 30 pharmacies within a five-mile radius of their store to which women could go instead of theirs for contraception. However, Berkson said the ruling was based on women’s access to prescription care and had far greater implications than one store in Olympia.
“If this ruling hadn’t gone into place,” she said, “then there’d be nothing to stop any pharmacy from not providing emergency contraception.”
Berkson said women in rural parts of the state already have trouble finding pharmacies near them. Eight other state pharmacy boards have similar rules for emergency contraception in place.
The high court’s decision is online at supremecourt.gov.