Current Page: U.S. | Thursday, February 23, 2012
Wash. State Contraception Rules Violate Religious Freedom, Says Judge

Wash. State Contraception Rules Violate Religious Freedom, Says Judge

A federal court has struck down rules in Washington State that mandated that pharmacists carry emergency contraceptives.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled on Wednesday that the state's mandate violated the rights of those who hold religious objections.

Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped with the case, told The Christian Post that the case was significant.

"This win is an important battle in the national war for conscience protection," said Rassbach, who talked about the national debate on religious conscience and contraceptive coverage.

"That mandate is unconstitutional for the same reasons Washington State's rules are. Whether in Washington, D.C., or Washington State, freedom of religion must be protected, and must be fought for. We think this ruling is a preview of what will happen to the federal mandate."

The case regarding the Washington pharmacists goes back to 2006, when the Washington State Board of Pharmacy considered implementing rules mandating that all pharmacists in the state supply emergency contraceptives. Initially, exemptions were allowed for pharmacists who had religious objections.

By 2007, the rules had been enacted and soon afterwards a suit was brought on behalf of the family-owned Ralph's pharmacy in Olympia as well as two individual pharmacists.

Judge Leighton oversaw that case and filed a preliminary injunction against the new rules. However, his decision was overruled by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lisa M. Stone, executive director for Legal Voice, an organization that intervened in the case arguing for the new rules, told CP that she believed the 9th Circuit Court would again overturn Leighton.

"We believe Judge Leighton's opinion applies the wrong legal standard and contains faulty legal analysis. It also ignores the public health implications articulated by the 9th Circuit and by the State and the Defendant-Intervenors," said Stone.

"Despite the district court's ruling, we believe the rules at issue – and the rulemaking process – complied with all relevant constitutional requirements."

Stone also said that she did not believe the issue had to do with matters of religious freedom, as "conduct can be regulated provided it is done so in a constitutionally permissible manner."

"Finally, the religious or moral beliefs of the pharmacists are not the only beliefs at stake in this case, or in the general issue of religious refusals," Stone contended. "Patients also have moral and religious beliefs about their health, their health care, and related issues that should be respected."

Rassbach told CP that he believed that this time around, should an appeal be brought before the 9th Circuit, a different result will occur.

"As Judge Leighton pointed out in his opinion yesterday, the earlier appeal was based on a preliminary injunction and a 'sparse' record. This go-round, the 9th Circuit will have before it a final judgment on the merits and an extensive record," he said.

"The evidence showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the entire purpose of the no-referral rule was to stamp out conscientious objection. With that evidence before it, we think the 9th Circuit, and the Supreme Court, will rule for our clients."

The decision in Washington comes days after Louisiana College, a private university affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, filed suit against the Obama Administration's contraception mandate.

"The time for silence is over," said Louisiana College President Dr. Joe W. Aguillard, in a statement.

"Louisiana College will not sit by and allow this or any government to usurp our God-given religious freedoms and our time-honored Baptist heritage."

On Feb. 10, President Barack Obama offered a compromise on the contraception mandate, in which the employer's insurer would be required to provide the contraception coverage rather than the religious group that might be opposed. While some groups opposed to the contraception mandate have backed off with the president's modification, others including the Alliance Defense Fund believe Obama's compromise is a "sham."

"This is simply an accounting gimmick rather than a substantive amelioration of the moral problem," wrote Gregory Baylor of the ADF.

"The bottom line remains the same: employees will be given abortifacients and contraceptives as a direct consequence of their employer's purchase of a group health plan."


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