A reversal on Plan B

'Morning after' pill: Rule would let pharmacists refuse to dispense drug

July 14, 2010 

Plan B

AP PHOTO

Pharmacists who object to selling Plan B emergency contraception suddenly have the upper hand in their legal fight with the state.

In a reversal, the state Board of Pharmacy now wants to let pharmacies refuse to dispense that or any other drug, as long as they refer patients to a pharmacy that sells it.

It’s essentially what pharmacies suing the state over moral objections wanted all along, said Kevin Stormans, co-owner of Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, where druggists don’t stock Plan B. “That’s what we’ve done for as long as I can remember,” he said.

A trial was set to begin July 26, but a judge postponed it indefinitely Monday at the request of lawyers for both sides, who cited the board’s June decision to begin a new rulemaking process.

The deal surprised women’s-rights advocates who had watched the pharmacy board pass a rule in 2007 at the urging of Gov. Chris Gregoire that barred pharmacies from refusing to sell a legal drug out of a moral or religious objection. The rule never took effect, awaiting the outcome of the lawsuit.

Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood’s Washington political arm, said she’s “completely bewildered and baffled” by the moves by the board and its lawyers in Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office.

“Typically, in the settlement of a lawsuit, you don’t just completely do a 180 and backtrack and give the other side everything they want,” Rose said.

The board made the decision after recognizing the legal fight could continue for another three years or more, McKenna spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said. It had been contemplating the rule change anyway, she said, seeing it as a way to help patients get medication quickly with help from a referral.

The pharmacy board’s rules currently don’t provide for referrals to other stores.

“The board can’t rule that every pharmacy has to stock every drug that’s on the market,” said Al Linggi of Fircrest, vice chairman of the pharmacy board. “That would be financially not viable for an independent or even a chain pharmacy.”

Planned Parenthood says personal beliefs imposed on a patient are different from financial considerations. Advocates say women shouldn’t be delayed by a trip to another store when seeking the Plan B “morning after” pill, which can prevent fertilization or implantation of an egg if taken within 72 hours of sex.

Stormans said his family believes the drug ends life.

Under the 2007 rule, an individual druggist could decline to fill a prescription, but only by passing the job to someone else at the same shop who could fill it.

The suing pharmacists aren’t assured of getting what they want. A rulemaking process has yet to begin, and it involves public hearings and comments that could sway the board on a hotly contentious issue.

But the board voted unanimously June 29, and its lawyers agreed in a legal stipulation with the pharmacies that the vote means the board “intends to adopt a rule allowing facilitated referrals for all pharmacies and pharmacists out of stock or unable or unwilling to stock, or timely deliver or dispense lawfully prescribed medications on site to their patients for any reason, including for conscientious reasons.”

Linggi said he believes the board will favor a rule that gives pharmacists that permission.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com; blog.thenewstribune.com/politics

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