The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) [official website] Board of Pharmacy on Wednesday appealed [DOH press release] a February ruling on access to emergency contraception. The appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit argued that the US District Court for the Western District Court of Washington [official websites] decision [opinion, PDF] should be overturned for focusing on religious opposition to certain medications, specifically Plan B [product website; JURIST news archive] and other emergency contraception. The DOH seeks to fully reinstate a Washington law [WAC § 246-869-010) requiring pharmacies to deliver and distribute lawfully prescribed medications, devices and drugs lawfully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website]. The state argues that these requirements are legal because they apply neutrally to all pharmacies and serve a government interest. The pharmacies countered, and the district court agreed, that the true goal was to suppress religious objections and violated the pharmacists constitutional right to freedom of religion.
In 2007, a district court decision blocked the law [JURIST report] ruling that it violated pharmacies' and pharmacists' First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights. That decision was overruled [JURIST report] in 2009 by the Ninth Circuit because the injunction was over broad. Plan B has been the subject of considerable legislative and judicial activity since the FDA approved access to the drug in 2006. Last December, a federal judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York [official website] revived a six-year-old lawsuit [JURIST report] over the Plan B contraceptive. In March 2009, a federal judge in New York overturned an FDA policy [JURIST report] that limited the nonprescription availability of the drug to women over the age of 18. In March 2008, a federal judge in the US District Court of the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by a physicians' group against the FDA seeking to overturn approval of the over-the-counter sale of Plan B. In October 2007, Illinois pharmacists considered a settlement [JURIST report] to a dispute over a state law that would have required them to dispense the Plan B pill regardless of their moral obligations to the contraception.