Christian Pharmacists in Washington Lose Free Exercise Challenge to Pharmacy Regulations Requiring Timely Provision of “Plan B” Contraceptives

Storman’s Inc. v. Weisman, No. 12-35221, 2015 DJDAR 8463 (9th Cir. July 24, 2015).

In a case that began in 2007, and now reaches the Ninth Circuit for the second time, the court again reverses the district court’s judgment in favor of several plaintiffs who challenged Washington state rules regulating the timely provision and delivery of pharmacy prescriptions. The plaintiffs had religious objections to delivering or stocking so-called “Plan B” contraceptives, even though the rules attempted to accommodate such objections by allowing objecting pharmacists to not provide or deliver the prescriptions so long as a substitute pharmacist can be found to meet the patient’s needs.

This decision, which attracted dozens of amicus briefs by religious organizations both conservative and liberal in their social outlook, may well head to the Supreme Court, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision last Term. After a long analysis, the panel rejects the plaintiffs’ claim that because their participation in the provision of the Plan B drug implicates the “the taking of a human life,” it constitutes a protected liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. The court ultimately concludes that the pharmacy rules at issue “are neutral, generally applicable, and rationally further the state’s interest in patient safety.”