Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Conscience Rights Revisited In Washington State

Some possible good news coming out of Washington state. For the past several years there has been quite a fight over the dispensing of Plan B by pharmacies in that state.  A couple of pharmacists stated they would refuse to dispense it because it causes abortions, and so the state turned around and forced them to dispense it upon penalty of losing their license.  However, now there is a chance that pharmacists will maintain some of their freedom of conscience, though not based upon the ruling of the Federal Appeals court.  The Board of Pharmacy wants to revisit their regulation requiring all legal prescriptions to be filled.  The proposed change would only require a 'referral' by the pharmacist to another pharmacist who will accommodate.  Now, anyone with any basic understanding of moral theology knows that referring is still too proximal to the moral act to be justified.  If a pharmacist cannot dispense, then they cannot refer, because they are still aiding the person in the completion of the action, ie abortion. 

The Story:

Pharmacy board takes another run at Plan B rule

Published: 07/15/1012:05 am
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.
Back then, the proposal prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to threaten to remove any pharmacy board members who voted for it. Her spokesman recently said she plans to make her opinion known to the board once again.
Pharmacy board members – most of whom have joined since 2007 – may indeed be headed for an about-face, but it’s too soon to assume that’s where they’ll end up.
Certainly, the goal is to write a rule that answers the concerns of the two pharmacists and Olympia grocer who are suing the state.
State lawyers hope to head off several more years of litigation – and a possible constitutional finding. The plaintiffs say that the state’s rule violates a pharmacists’ religious freedom. It is not a negligible argument, even if the often reversed 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year ordered Leighton to apply a standard more deferential to the government.
But any proposed rule will still have to be vetted by an extensive public process – a process likely to raise the same concerns as were voiced in 2006 and 2007.
The pharmacy board will have to again wrestle with situations in which a pharmacy’s refusal to dispense Plan B effectively blocks a patient from receiving the drug.
The pill should be taken within 72 hours – preferably 24 hours – to be effective at preventing pregnancy. Under “facilitated referral,” a patient in the hinterlands might have to travel some distance to find a pharmacy willing to stock Plan B.
Pharmacy board members probably haven’t spared themselves any grief by trading a legal battle for a public policy fight. They have more than a court case to settle; they also have to convince a lot of concerned people that any new rule protects access.

Read more:

Here is something else to consider.  Washington state has legalized assisted suicide.  Now, some pharmacists don't have too much of a problem with Plan B, but what about the drugs used for suicide?  Will the state force more pharmacists to fill these drugs or make them refer?  And if the state is willing to do this to pharmacists, then how long will it be before physicians are forced, as a condition of their license, to perform abortions and assist in suicides?

For more, see Wesley J. Smith's commentary.


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