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US rejects pharmacists' religious rights appeal over contraceptives

The US Supreme Court has said it won't hear an appeal from Washington state pharmacists with religious objections to dispensing emergency contraceptives. It leaves in place rules first adopted nearly a decade ago.

Tuesday's ruling leaves in place regulations adopted in 2007, following reports several women were denied access to emergency contraceptives. The rules stipulate that pharmacies must fill lawful prescriptions, but individual pharmacists with moral objections can refer patients to another pharmacist in the same store.

The case

Stormans - owners of Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia, a Washington state grocery store and pharmacy, sued, as did two pharmacists who said the rules required them to breach their religious beliefs.

"The state needs to not make a value judgment that a religiously-motivated referral is not permissible when other referrals are," Kristen Waggoner, the lead attorney for Stormans in the case said. She added that another lawsuit could happen if the state doesn't enforce the rules "in an even-handed manner."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson praised the high court's decision to not hear the case.

"Patients should know that when they need medication, they won't be refused based on the personal views of a particular pharmacy owner," Ferguson added. "The appeals court ruling upheld today protects that principle."

Splits in the high court

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the appeal. Alito wrote a 15-page dissent for the three dissenting justices: "If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern."

Plan B

Sold as Plan B, emergency contraception is a high dose of the drug found in many regular birth-control pills. It can lower the risk of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

jbh/jr (AP, Voice of America)

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