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Originally published Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 4:39 PM

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State should appeal ruling that pharmacists cannot be compelled to dispense contraceptives

A federal judge's ruling that Washington state cannot make pharmacies sell Plan B sends a message that pharmacists' personal views can take priority over patients' rights.

Seattle Times Editorial

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FAILURE to ensure timely access to emergency contraceptives denies critical health care to women. Yet U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled this week that Washington state cannot compel pharmacies to sell emergency contraceptives. How disappointing.

Pharmacies are licensed by the state, which has a compelling interest in requiring them to dispense any medication for which there is a community need.

Some background: Leighton first blocked the state's dispensing rule in 2007. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel overruled him, saying the rule did not target religious conduct, and sent the case back. Leighton's affirmation of his earlier decision doesn't strike down the pharmacy rules, but it gives dissenting pharmacists cover to flout them.

A handful of pharmacists have argued that they should not have to dispense emergency contraceptives for religious reasons, particularly Plan B, because that drug can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.

We agree with lawyers for the state that the pharmacy rules are legal because they apply neutrally to medicines and pharmacies, and because they promote a government interest — the timely delivery of medicine that becomes less effective as time passes, such as Plan B.

Some rural communities have only one pharmacy. People with disabilities may be unable to travel far and wide looking for a pharmacy that will serve them. Druggists allowed to refuse to dispense Plan B for religious reasons could also refuse to dispense time-sensitive HIV medications.

The federal ruling rejects these arguments and sends a message that pharmacists' personal views can take priority over patients' rights.

The state should appeal.

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