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Six-Year Fight Over Wash. Emergency Contraception Law Could Hinge on Upcoming Supreme Court Cases

January 7, 2014 — A six-year legal battle over a Washington state rule requiring pharmacies to dispense emergency contraception when requested is in limbo until the Supreme Court rules on challenges to the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) federal contraceptive coverage rules, the Olympian reports (Shannon, Olympian, 1/4).

The 2007 Washington rule requires pharmacies to stock and dispense time-sensitive drugs for which there is a demand. The state permits individual pharmacists to defer prescriptions to other pharmacists at the same location, as long as doing so does not create delays (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/22/12).

Ralph's Thriftway Pharmacy owner Kevin Stormans and his family sued the state over the EC provision because of religious objections to the drugs. The family won at trial, but the state appealed (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/5). The case was headed for arguments in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month but was put on hold while the judges await the Supreme Court's decision on the federal contraceptive coverage rules.

Like the companies challenging the contraceptive coverage requirements, the Washington case tests whether a for-profit business can exercise religion.

Although the state rule is on hold for the Stormans, Washington officials said they are willing to act against other pharmacies if they violate the requirement to stock in-demand medications. To date, there have been no other complaints of pharmacies not dispensing EC (Olympian, 1/4).