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Larissa Doucette

A Washington State regulation requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives was declared to be unconstitutional by US district court Judge Ronald B. Leighton because it violates pharmacists’ right to conscientious objection. The ruling is part of Leighton’s decision in a lawsuit to block the regulation brought by a drugstore owner and two of his pharmacists who refuse to stock or dispense emergency contraception based on their religious conviction that these medications are tantamount to abortion. As summarized by Reuters, Leighton’s published opinion “noted that Washington permitted pharmacy owners to decide they won’t stock certain medications for any number of ‘secular reasons’ – because they drugs are expensive, for example, or inconvenient to dispense, or because they simply don’t fit into the store’s business plan. Yet the rule did not allow pharmacists to assert a religious reason for keeping certain drugs off their shelves.” The Permanent Injunction and Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law issued by Judge Leighton are available from the US District Court, Western District of Washington Web site. Reuters notes that the Washington State Board of Pharmacy is studying the ruling. According to Reuters, an Illinois state judge struck down a similar law requiring pharmacies to dispense emergency contraception in 2011, and six additional states explicitly allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives. Additional information on the topic from a national perspective is available in an April 2011 NABP Newsletter article, “Conscience Clause Controversy on Back Burner, but Still Simmering.”