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SCOTUS declines to hear challenge to Wash. contraception dispensation regulations

June 29, 2016 — The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld a Washington state regulation mandating that pharmacies dispense emergency contraception (EC), the Washington Post reports (Barnes, Washington Post, 6/28).

Background

Washington state requires pharmacies to stock and dispense time-sensitive drugs for which there is a demand, including EC. The state permits individual pharmacists to refer prescriptions to other pharmacists at the same location, as long as doing so does not create delays.

Ralph's Thriftway Pharmacy owner Kevin Stormans and his family sued the state over the EC provision because of religious objections to providing the drugs. The family won at trial, but the state appealed.

In July 2015, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in a unanimous decision overturned the lower court decision and wrote that the "rules are rationally related to Washington's legitimate interest in ensuring that its citizens have safe and timely access to their lawful and lawfully prescribed medications." The court also noted that speed of delivery is critical for EC.

In January 2016, Ralph's Thriftway Pharmacy and two pharmacists petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/5).

State officials had argued that the rule is neutral, as it does not exempt any specific group. Further, the state noted that while a business cannot be relieved of its obligation to fill a legal prescription, an individual pharmacist may cite personal objections. The state also said the plaintiffs' objection to providing EC was moot because women can purchase EC over the counter (Wolf, USA Today, 6/28).

SCOTUS rejects appeal

According to the Post, the pharmacists' appeal did not garner the four votes necessary for the Supreme Court to review a case (Washington Post, 6/28). The court's three conservative justices dissented, saying the court should have granted the appeal.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision. "When a woman walks into a pharmacy, she should not fear being turned away because of the religious beliefs of the owner or the person behind the counter," she said (Hurley, Reuters, 6/28).