Patients’ health, pharmacists’ conscience protected in Wash., court agrees to halt trial

ADF-allied attorneys secure stay after state agrees to reverse course, act in best interests of both patients and pharmacists
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TACOMA, Wash. — Attorneys allied with the Alliance Defense Fund secured a stay order from a federal court Monday that halts legal proceedings against pharmacists on trial for their conscience. The court issued the stay after the state pharmacy board agreed to propose revisions to its rules to allow what the pharmacists have sought from the beginning: to be allowed to refer patients seeking drugs that risk taking human life to other pharmacies. For three years, the Washington State Department of Health has been attempting to force pharmacists to sell such drugs against their conscience.

ADF and allied attorneys filed the lawsuit in 2007 to safeguard the rights of pharmacists and pharmacies against state regulations that forced them to stock or distribute the drugs.  The new regulations will protect conscience rights while also benefitting patients by mandating that all referrals are “facilitated,” which means, in part, that pharmacies will help patients find a provider that stocks and dispenses the drug they are seeking.

“Pharmacists and other healthcare workers shouldn’t be punished for looking out for their patients’ health--and for abiding by their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden. “The pharmacy board was right in determining that facilitated referrals work to protect the patients’ best interests and that, at the same time, pro-life pharmacists shouldn’t be forced to violate their conscience. This is a win-win situation.”

“Patients are true winners here,” said Kristen Waggoner of the Seattle-based law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, and one of nearly 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “The new rules should ensure that customers receive prescribed drugs in the most efficient manner possible while at the same time respecting the conscience rights of pharmacists, who should never be forced to participate in the risk of destroying human life just to be able to preserve their professional licenses.”

In a stipulation, the state attorney general told the court that the pharmacy board intends to create new rules that respect conscience rights and also noted “that facilitated referrals are often in the best interest of patients, pharmacies, and pharmacists” because they “help assure timely access to lawfully prescribed medications.”

In 2007, ADF and allied attorneys filed the suit Stormans v. Selecky with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, which later issued a preliminary injunction against the state regulations.

Washington State Department of Health officials filed an appeal of the injunction, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit set it aside even though the State Board of Pharmacy itself had determined that no evidence existed to show that anyone in the state had been denied access to the “Plan B” drug (or any other time-sensitive medication) due to religious conscience concerns.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.