Friday, July 24, 2015

9th Circuit Rejects Free Exercise Challenge By Pharmacies To Required Filling of Emergency Contraception RX

In Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, (9th Cir., July 23, 2015), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld against constitutional challenge rules of the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission that provide only limited accommodation to pharmacists and pharmacies that object on religious grounds to filling prescriptions for emergency contraception. The rules require a pharmacy to deliver all prescription medications, even if the owner of the pharmacy has a religious objection. An individual pharmacist with religious objections may refuse to fill the prescription if another pharmacist working for the pharmacy does so.

The court held that these rules are both facially and operationally neutral, and are generally applicable, so that  heightened scrutiny need not be applied to plaintiffs' free exercise challenge:
The possibility that pharmacies whose owners object to the distribution of emergency contraception for religious reasons may be burdened disproportionately does not undermine the rules’ neutrality.
The court also rejected plaintiffs' substantive due process challenge, rejecting the argument that there is a fundamental liberty interest in owning, operating or working at a licensed professional business free from regulations requiring activities that one sincerely believes lead to the taking of human life. Alliance Defense Fund immediately announced that it would appeal the court's decision. The Olympian reports on the 9th Circuit's decision.