June 29, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The Supreme Court sometimes sets precedent by its rulings; sometimes it affects policy by what it doesn't do. The same day that justices issued the Whole Woman's Health ruling, they let stand a lower court ruling forcing Washington pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing drugs.
Justices on Monday declined to hear an appeal in the case of Stormans v. Wiesman by a 5-3 vote. The voting mirrored the Whole Woman's Health decision perfectly, with Justice Samuel Alito writing the dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Stormans family, who are devout Christians, had declined to fill orders for such drugs in their pharmacy, Ralph's Thriftway. They referred customers who requested Plan B, conventionally known as the morning after pill, and Ella, which is sometimes dubbed “the week after pill,” to 30 other pharmacies within a five-mile radius that happily furnish the potentially abortifacient drugs.
In 2005, the Washington State Pharmacy Commission updated the pharmacy ordinance and, after then-Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire changed some of its members, it eliminated the right of a pharmacist to object on the grounds of conscience.
In 2007, the commission said that pharmacists may not “refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral, or other personal grounds.”
The Stormans family – with Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler – filed a lawsuit in 2007 and eventually prevailed in 2012.
However, the state of Washington appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against the family last summer. The San Francisco-based court is known as one of the nation's most liberal.
The family then appealed to the Supreme Court, supported by 38 national or state pharmacy associations, which said the Washington state regulation represented a “departure” from the norm, making it a liberal outlier.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear the family's appeal to restore conscience rights.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his dissent, “There is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the state.”
The rejection was an “ominous sign,” he wrote. “If this 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 family's attorneys expressed their disappointment yesterday.
“The state of Washington allows pharmacists to refer customers for just about any reason – except reasons of conscience. Singling out people of faith and denying them the same freedom to refer is a violation of federal law,” said Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the family in court. “All 49 other states allow conscience-based referrals, which are fully supported by the American Pharmacists Association, the Washington Pharmacy Association, and more than 34 other pharmacy associations.”
“Not one customer in Washington has been denied timely access to any drug due to a religious objection,” she said.
“No one should be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which also represented the family. “This law does nothing but punish people of faith.”
Pro-life leaders hope the family will find legislative, if not judicial, relief in the days ahead.
“Despite this missed opportunity to correct an unconstitutional abuse of power, the Washington State rule that punishes pharmacists and pharmacy owners who respect unborn life can and should be immediately repealed,” said Clarke Forsythe, the acting president and senior counsel at Americans United for Life.