Religious Objectors Have Constitutional Right to Exemption from “Plan B” Pharmacy Mandate

So holds a federal district court in today’s Stormans Inc. v. Selecky (W.D. Wash. Feb. 22, 2012):

This case presents a novel question: can the State compel licensed pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense lawfully prescribed emergency contraceptives over their sincere religious belief that doing so terminates a human life? In 2007, under pressure from the Governor, Planned Parenthood, and the Northwest Women’s Law Center, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy enacted regulations designed to do just that.

The rule primarily at issue, commonly known as the “delivery rule,” requires pharmacies to timely deliver all lawfully prescribed medications, including the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella. Under the delivery rule, a pharmacy’s refusal to deliver is grounds for discipline, up to and including revocation of its license. In operation, the delivery rule bars a pharmacy from referring patients seeking Plan B to other pharmacies, meaning they must dispense the drugs.

In violation of the regulations, but in conformity with their religious beliefs, the Plaintiffs refused to dispense Plan B to Planned Parenthood test shoppers and others. The Board launched a series of investigations, and this suit was the result. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Board’s regulations, while facially acceptable, are in practice unconstitutional….

The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable. They were designed instead 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. The rules are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs. The Court will therefore permanently enjoin their enforcement against Plaintiffs.

There’s also a more detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law available, and here’s the Permanent Injunction. I haven’t had a chance to read through all this yet, but I hope to blog more about it when I get a chance. [UPDATE: Ed Whelan (National Review Online’s Bench Memos) has a post on the subject.]