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IN THE COURTS | Federal Judge Refuses To Lift Injunction Against Wash. State Rule That Requires Pharmacists To Dispense EC

IN THE COURTS | Federal Judge Refuses To Lift Injunction Against Wash. State Rule That Requires Pharmacists To Dispense EC
[Feb. 20, 2008]

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton on Friday refused to lift an injunction that is preventing a policy from going into effect that would require Washington state pharmacies to dispense emergency contraception, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports (Woodward, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/15).

A pharmacy owner and two pharmacists filed a lawsuit in July 2007, which claims that the Board of Pharmacy rule establishing a duty to dispense EC violates their civil rights. Leighton in November 2007 issued the injunction that allows pharmacists who oppose EC to refer customers to other pharmacies. Under the court-established "refuse and refer" policy, as long as pharmacists immediately refer patients to nearby pharmacies, the state cannot punish the pharmacy for declining to provide EC (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/13/07).

The defendants, including the state Department of Health and the Board of Pharmacy, on Friday asked Leighton to lift the injunction until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the case, the Seattle Times reports. The defendants said that Washington residents have a legal right to obtain EC from pharmacies and that the injunction "broadly infringes on that right, placing the public at greater risk of denial of access to care." At Friday's hearing, Leighton said he believes that arguments over the issue are not based on an effort to establish sound health policy but by bitterness between the two sides. "I do get the impression that this is a solvable problem, and it's not an issue that anyone wants to have solved," Leighton said. He added that the case could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Six women and a man have joined the health department and Board of Pharmacy as defendants. The defendants have until Feb. 29 to appeal the ruling (Ostrom, Seattle Times, 2/16). Plaintiff Kevin Stormans -- co-owner of Stormans pharmacy in Olympia, Wash. -- after hearing the ruling said, "The Constitution tells me that I should have the ability to practice what I believe is right." Karen Cooper, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, said she is disappointed by the decision but not surprised, adding, "Patient access to appropriate care should not be undermined by personal, nonmedical judgments" (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/15).