Wash. Judge Hears Arguments on Emergency Contraception Dispensing Rule

February 3, 2012 — A federal judge heard closing arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit over a Washington state rule requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense emergency contraception, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton said he expects to issue a decision in a few weeks.

Under state law, pharmacies are required to provide all medications for which there is a community need and to stock a representative variety of drugs needed by their patients. The state permits individual pharmacists to defer prescriptions to other pharmacists at the same location, as long as doing so does not create delays.

A drug store and two pharmacists sued in 2007, arguing that dispensing EC would infringe on their religious beliefs. Leighton blocked the state from enforcing the rule, but a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said he applied the wrong legal standard and sent the case back to him. The panel said the law is neutral and does not directly target religious views.

Leighton on Wednesday said he would frame his ruling to encourage the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to address whether pharmacists have a right to due process that allows them to refuse to provide the drugs. Leighton also noted that the rule does not apply to hospitals. "The poor people who rely on emergency rooms don't get the so-called benefit of the rule," he said, adding, "It's riddled with exceptions and holes" (Johnson, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/1).