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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court is rebuffing Washington state pharmacists who have deeply held religious beliefs.
In an announcement Tuesday, the High Court declared it would not hear the challenge to a state law that requires pharmacies to stock contraceptive drugs, including abortifacients, despite objections from pharmacists on the grounds of religious freedom. The action, or lack thereof, on behalf of the Court effectively allows the 2007 regulations passed by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy to stand.
The legal challenges originated in Olympia, when the proprietors of a grocery store that includes a pharmacy sued the state, arguing the regulations, which permit individual pharmacists to refuse prescribing abortifaciants, but demands that pharmacies as a whole carry the drugs, mandated the small business owners to violate their religious beliefs. The family-run company maintained their belief that conception marks the beginning of life and to prevent "the uterine implantation of a fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion," but did permit its employees to refer customers to other establishments that would fill the contraception prescriptions.
"Dispensing these drugs would make them guilty of destroying life," asserted Kristen Waggoner, the lead attorney in the case. "The state needs to not make a value judgment that a religiously motivated referral is not permissible when other referrals are."
The regulations were initially struck down by a district judge, only to have a federal appeals court overturn the judge's ruling, holding that the mandate must "accommodate individual pharmacists' beliefs while fulfilling its mission of ensuring that patients timely receive needed medicines; and second, to ensure timely access to all medications."
The Supreme Court decision not to proceed further with Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman was met with praise from Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, who headed the state's defense. "Patients should know that when they need medication, they won't be refused based on the personal views of a particular pharmacy owner," Ferguson asserted. "The appeals court ruling upheld today protects that principle."
The decision to return the case to the lower court was labeled an "ominous sign" by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Alito, a practicing Catholic, penned the court's 15-page dissent, warning that if the Court's decision "is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern."
"[The state of] Washington would rather have no pharmacy than one that doesn't toe the line on abortifacient emergency contraceptives," he wrote. The regulations from Washington state, the three justices argued, "reflect antipathy toward religious beliefs that do not accord with the views of those holding the levers of government power."
The Supreme Court order comes one day after it struck down a pro-life law that had effectively shuttered most of the abortion mills in Texas. The 5–3 ruling, decided by swing vote Anthony Kennedy, a self-professed Catholic, declared Texas House Bill (HB2) imposed an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion by requiring that abortion mills meet minimum health and safety standards, in addition to ordering abortionists to obtain admitting privileges from area hospitals. HB2 had twice been upheld in the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas decried the "undue burden" argument presented by the Court's liberal bloc, stating, "Our law is now so riddled with special exceptions for special rights that our decisions deliver neither predictability nor the promise of a judiciary bound by the rule of law."
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