Major Win for Conscience in Washington State has National Implications
Following a 12 day trial, a district court in the state of Washington has issued a resounding decision supporting the conscience rights of pharmacists and pharmacies. The case, Stormans v. Selecky, began after the Washington Board of Pharmacy (“Board”) issued new regulations requiring pharmacies to dispense life-ending “emergency contraception” (both Plan B and ella) regardless of religious beliefs or moral objections.
The case has been ongoing since 2007, but yesterday the court issued a detailed opinion holding that the regulations violate the First (free exercise) and Fourteenth (equal protection) Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The detailed 48-page opinion was accompanied by 97 pages of findings and conclusions of law.
These findings contain excellent analysis and affirmations of the importance of conscience. For example, the Court found that the Board’s regulations have been aimed at conscientious objectors from their inception; that the goal of the Board, Governor Christine Gregoire, and “advocacy groups” was to eliminate conscientious objection; that “literally all of the evidence demonstrates that the 2007 rulemaking was undertaken primarily (if not solely) to ensure that religious objectors would be required to stock and dispense Plan B”; and that the design of the regulations was to accomplish a “religious gerrymander.”
But perhaps even more interesting from a national perspective are the following: 1) the court’s detailed outline of the Governor’s relationship with Planned Parenthood, and their overt partnership in maliciously attacking people of religious belief; 2) the court’s finding that there is no problem of access to Plan B; and 3) the affirmation that the right to “refrain from taking human life” is deeply rooted in our nation’s history.
1) Planned Parenthood’s bullying
The court goes back to 2005 to explain that the impetus for this case actually began shortly after Governor Rod Blagojevich (Illinois) issued an emergency rule forcing pharmacists in that state to dispense Plan B (a rule which the court points out has since been held unconstitutional). At that time, Planned Parenthood and Northwest Women’s Law Center (“NWWLC”) contacted Governor Gregoire’s office regarding conscientious objections to “emergency contraception.” At that point, both Governor Gregoire and Planned Parenthood began pressuring the Washington Board of Pharmacy to address the issue.
At first, the Board expressed support for the right of conscience. But as we have witnessed over the years (and most recently, in the vicious attacks on the Susan G. Komen Foundation), Planned Parenthood does not take “no” for an answer.
And thus, the bullying commenced. With Governor Gregoire in their pocket, Planned Parenthood manipulated and distorted the system in an attempt to ensure that conscience rights were obliterated in the state of Washington. Importantly, the court detailed this malicious campaign in its findings of fact—meaning it is part of the legal record. Among its findings were:
- Within hours of the Board’s initial vote to protect conscience, “the Governor and Planned Parenthood set in motion a plan to reverse the Board’s decision.”
- “Seeking to increase pressure on the Board, the Governor’s office urged Planned Parenthood to work together with the Human Rights Commission (HRC).” The HRC “followed up with a letter threatening Board members with personal liability if they passed a regulation allowing for conscientious objection.”
- “Planned Parenthood reviewed drafts and helped shape the message of this inter-governmental warning, which was obviously intended to intimidate the Board.”
- “The Governor publicly threatened to replace members of the Board, and the Governor, based on the unprecedented participation of Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice advocates in the Board review process, did, in fact, refuse to reappoint [the Board chair].”
- The Governor personally called the Board chair to pressure him, after she had advised her staff that calling Board members was unlawful. When he resisted, she replaced him with appointees recommended by Planned Parenthood.
- “[T]he Governor … took another unprecedented step: She involved her ‘advocates’—Planned Parenthood, NWWLC and NARAL—in the process of interviewing candidates for the Board.”
- The Governor then selected two new candidates recommended by Planned Parenthood.
- When the plaintiff pharmacy’s views on Plan B became public, “pro-choice groups” organized ongoing protests against the pharmacy, with protestors standing in the streets and yelling at customers—causing the plaintiff to have to hire security to patrol the grounds.
The Court also detailed numerous other communications as well as statements made by witnesses during the trial. The creation of the regulations was “a highly political affair, driven largely by the Governor and Planned Parenthood—both outspoken opponents of conscientious objection to Plan B.”
All of this “religious gerrymandering” led to one result: the Board’s approval of regulations that force pharmacists and pharmacies to dispense “emergency contraception,” regardless of religious belief. Indeed that was the point. The Governor and Planned Parenthood were targeting pharmacists of a certain religious belief.
2) There is no problem of access to Plan B
The court bolstered its decision with the fact that “the evidence at trial revealed no problem of access to Plan B or any other drug before, during, or after the rulemaking process.” In fact, the Board commissioned a survey which “confirm[ed] that Plan B is widely available, and religious objections do not pose a barrier to access.”
This was the case even in rural areas—those areas that Planned Parenthood and abortion advocates claim are underserved. The Court found, “no Board witness, or any other witness, was able to identify any particular community in Washington—rural or otherwise—that lacked timely access to emergency contraceptives or any other time-sensitive medication.”
In the “absence of general, empirical, or systematic evidence of an access problem,” the state introduced into evidence “refusal stories”—attempts to show actual situations where women were refused access to Plan B. But the court blew enormous holes through this “evidence.” Many of the refusals were “inaccurately reported,” “unsubstantiated,” or involved “mere hypotheticals.” Importantly, the court acknowledged that many of the stories were “manufactured” by Planned Parenthood and other activists.
3) There is a deeply rooted right to “refrain from taking human life”
Finally, the court acknowledged that “the right to refrain from taking human life” is a right “deeply rooted in our nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices.’” Citing a law review article by Catholic University Professor and AUL ally Mark Rienzi, the court stated that this right was first protected in the colonial era, is widely recognized in the U.S. medical community, and is recognized in foreign and international law.
Much to the chagrin of Planned Parenthood, this decision comes right at a time when it believes it has been victorious in the conscience battle. Just when the Obama Administration is trying to force religious institutions to provide coverage of life-ending drugs to their employees, a federal district court has ruled that such coercive action targeted toward religious persons is unconstitutional.
Two courts have now held that this type of coercion violates the very core of the Constitution. In Illinois, a state court held in 2011 that the Illinois rule instigated by then-Governor Blagojevich violates a host of state laws, as well as the First Amendment. Now, a federal district court in Washington—yet another more “liberal” state—has ruled the same.
Moreover, the court’s finding that there is no access problem to Plan B—even in “rural areas—is substantial. It guts the very heart of Planned Parenthood’s “access” arguments. And the court’s refusal to allow Planned Parenthood to “manufacture” evidence highlights the organization’s typical modus operandi: if you don’t have the facts on your side, lie. Thankfully, this court saw through the bullying and the lies.
The message is clear: Planned Parenthood can puppet governors and presidents into trying to violate the consciences of the American people, but the law is on our side.