TACOMA, WASHINGTON, February 22, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a decision that could impact the unfolding debate over the HHS mandate, today a federal court in Washington state upheld the First Amendment rights of pharmacists to refuse to distribute potentially abortifacient contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B and Ella, if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The decision overturns Washington Board of Pharmacy rules approved in 2007 by pro-abortion governor Christine Gregoire, which lacked the exemption.

“The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable,” the court ruled in its decision. “They were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B, and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted.” The court found the rules “unconstitutional” on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.

“Just as the Obama administration is trying to force religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for life-ending drugs against their conscience beliefs, a federal district court has ruled that such an action is unconstitutional,” Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com. AUL submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a statement with the board of pharmacy.

The ruling brings to an end a case filed nearly five years ago before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, after the state government passed regulations compelling pharmacists to stock and distribute abortifacient drugs. The regulation’s proponents could not find a single case in which someone went without the drugs because of a religious objection.

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“The court’s decision is a ringing affirmation that conscience and good health care are not only compatible, but inseparable,” senior ADF counsel Stephen Aden said in a statement.

“This is a significant win for Americans who have been concerned about their First Amendment rights,” Kristi Hamrick, a media spokeswoman for AUL, told LifeSiteNews.com. “This case says that pro-life pharmacists could not be forced against their conscience to distribute life-ending drugs,” she said. “So, how can you force people to pay for life-ending drugs?” 

ADF attorney Kirsten Waggoner said that because of the ruling, “Customers will 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 destroying human life just to be able to preserve their professional licenses.”

Attorneys with the Seattle law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, who are allied with the Alliance Defense Fund, acted as co-counsel with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in the lawsuit, Stormans v. Selecky

An Illinois court upheld pharmacists’ conscience rights in a similar case last year.

“Two courts have now held that this type of coercion violates the very core of the Constitution,” said Dr. Yoest. “This highlights just how radical the Obama administration is in its unprecedented attempt to force religious institutions and all Americans to fund life-ending drugs.”