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Court stops enforcement of Wash. regulations targeting pharmacists, pharmacies who don’t stock abortion drugs

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — A federal court Thursday confirmed that the right of Washington pharmacists to obey their conscience when they object to dispensing abortion-inducing drugs on religious grounds will be protected while a lawsuit by two pharmacists and a pharmacy owner moves forward.  The court halted newly passed regulations, which the pharmacy and pharmacists are challenging, until a decision is reached in the case.  Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and ADF-allied attorneys filed the lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction in July.

"The government shouldn’t force pro-life pharmacists or any other health care providers to violate their religious beliefs simply to appease a political agenda," said lead counsel and ADF-allied attorney Kristen Waggoner of the Seattle-based law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry.  "The right to conscientiously object to the taking of human life is deeply rooted in our nation’s history and laws.  The ‘morning-after’ pill can unnaturally and deliberately kill innocent human life."

The court’s order stated, "the regulations appear to target religious practice in a way forbidden by the Constitution" and "appear to intentionally place a significant burden on the free exercise of religion for those who believe life begins at conception…."

"This is not an uncompromising battle between access and conscience," said Steven O’Ban, also of Ellis, Li & McKinstry.  "Despite the fact that Plan B is widely available in Washington, the new regulations prohibit pharmacies from refusing to stock the drug because of religious objections.  This is neither necessary nor constitutional."

Before the new regulations were passed, Kevin Stormans, an owner of Ralph’s Thriftway, received a phone call inquiring about whether the store carried Plan B.  After researching the abortion-inducing drug and its effects, Stormans, a Christian, decided that his store would not stock the drug based on religious and moral grounds.  Activists then began to picket Ralph’s and filed complaints with the Washington Board of Pharmacy.  The board investigated Ralph’s for over a year and then referred the matter to legal counsel.

When it became apparent the board would pursue charges, Stormans contacted Ellis, Li & McKinstry.  They and ADF attorneys represent Stormans, Inc., doing business as Ralph’s, along with two Christian pharmacists.

"The court correctly held that the regulations force health care providers to ‘dispense a drug that ends a life as defined by their religious teachings.’  No health care professional should be forced to participate in destroying human life to preserve his or her professional license," said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.