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The Washington Board of Pharmacy is apparently going to revisit its regulation requiring every pharmacy to dispense all legal prescriptions.  The controversy arose when a small pharmacy chain refused to dispense Plan B contraception based on the religious beliefs of the chain’s owners and fears it could act as an abortifacient.  To coerce the company into dispensing Plan B, the Board passed the regulation described above.  The company sued and a trial court ruled that it violated the company’s right to freedom of religion.  The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, claiming that as a general applicable regulation, it did not violate the 1st Amendment—ignoring, or better stated, knowing and not caring—that the only companies likely to oppose contraception dispensing would be owned by people with religious objections.  Thus, based on the appeals court ruling, it appeared as if all conscience rights of pharmacies were to be quashed.

My concern had to do with lethal prescriptions for assisted suicide, legal in Washington. If pharmacies could be forced to dispense contraception based on the regulation, but also, drugs intended to kill.  But now, the Pharmacy Board has decided to revisit the issue and agreed to revise the rule.  From the story:

The state Board of Pharmacy and pharmacists suing it over Plan B want out of court. The litigants asked federal district court Judge Ronald Leighton last week to put their legal fight on hold pending the resolution of a new rule-making process. The move angered advocates of unfettered access to Plan B emergency contraception. They contend the delay signals an undoing of a 2007 victory: the passage of rules requiring pharmacists to dispense a drug unless another pharmacist is available in person or by phone to step in.

The pharmacy board voted last month to reopen the rule-making process to consider “facilitated referral,” which is essentially the “refuse and refer” rule that the board embraced in 2006. Under that rule, pharmacists with moral objections to Plan B – some consider it tantamount to abortion because it prevents implantation of a fertilized egg – could refuse to dispense it as long as they took steps to help patients get it elsewhere.

That would still force pharmacies to be complicit in objectionable (to them) dispensing, and hence, I would prefer that the conscience rights of pharmacies be fully protected—with the condition that it publicly and clearly publicize and post signs in the stores which prescriptions it won’t fill.  In other words, a pharmacy that doesn’t wish to participate in the killing of a patient in assisted suicide should not be forced to have anyblood on its hands—even if indirectly.  Still, this is good news because it permits those in support of conscience to make their case and help craft a noncoercive approach to dispensing controversial drugs and medications.

Here’s a more lengthy article setting forth my views of conscience rights.

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