A family-owned pharmacy and two individual pharmacy workers will not be forced to stock drugs which could cause an abortion after a court ruling in the USA last week.
The case came about after regulations made it illegal to refer people to other pharmacies for conscience reasons – even though they were allowed to refer people for business or convenience reasons.
But now a court in Washington State has decided that if pharmacists have a religious, moral or ethical objection to the drugs they can refer patients to other pharmacies.
Margo Thelen, who was one of the pharmacists involved, said: “I’m just thrilled that the court ruled to protect our constitutional right of conscience”.
She added: “I was forced to leave a job I loved simply because of my deeply held religious convictions.”
The case involved family-owned pharmacy Ralph’s Thriftway and two individuals who worked at other pharmacies who could not dispense “Plan B”, a morning-after-pill, or “ella”, a week-after-pill, because of conscientious objections.
Drugs such as Plan B and ella can cause an early stage abortion.
The pharmacists were supported in their case by a Seattle-based law firm and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group which defends religious liberty for people of all faiths.
Luke Goodrich, from the Becket Fund, said the decision sent out a “very clear message: No individual can be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs”.
As a result of the regulations, which were passed in 2007, one of the pharmacists was told to transfer to another state, while the family-owned pharmacy faced repeated investigations and threats of punishment.
In its ruling the court said: “The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral”, and it added that they were “designed” 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”.