On Wednesday, a federal appeals court unanimously agreed that pharmacists are required to dispense Plan B to patients regardless of any personal or religious objections to the drug. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote that one’s First Amendment right to freely practice one’s religion “does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” and that “[a]ny refusal to dispense — regardless of whether it is motivated by religion, morals, conscience, ethics, discriminatory prejudices, or personal distaste for a patient — violates the rules.”
This ruling lifts a temporary injunction granted by the U.S. District Court in Seattle, which protected pharmacists who refused to dispense Plan B so long as they referred patients to a different pharmacy where it was available. According to Joyce Roper, an assistant attorney general for Washington State, this ruling by the 9th Circuit will take effect immediately and require that pharmacists both stock and dispense the drug.
Although other aspects of the lawsuit have yet to be decided, this particular affirmation by the court that a woman’s right to healthcare trumps a pharmacist’s personal attitudes is a terrific victory in the fight for accessible medical care for women. Keeping the time-sensitive nature of Plan B in mind, we hope that other courts in other parts of the country will follow in the 9th Circuit’s footsteps.