Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Religious Freedom Ruling Stands

The Supreme Court has issued several important decisions over the last few days. One of those decisions was allowing a ruling to stand in a religious freedom case from the state of Washington. Washington passed a law stating that pharmacies could not refuse to stock particular drugs for religious reasons. This was challenged by a pharmacy that wanted to get around the whole "religious objection" problem by simply not stocking the medication in question.

In 2007, Washington state passed a law making it illegal to refuse to stock a drug for reasons of conscience. It was challenged by the owners of a supermarket-based pharmacy who declined on religious grounds to handle morning-after pills.

"Dispensing these drugs would make them guilty of destroying life," their lawyer said.

I'm going to break in here and point something out, because I keep seeing it glossed over in news reports on these "religious freedom" contraception cases. The morning-after pill is not an abortion pill. That would be RU-486, a completely different drug. The morning-after pill does not and cannot end a pregnancy once conception has occurred.

What a lot of people don't realize is that sperm can stay alive for seven days inside a woman's body, and conception usually happens during that time rather than at the exact moment of intercourse. So the morning-after pill is a high dose of regular birth control medication - which, by the way, does not and cannot end a pregnancy either. It suppresses ovulation for the week during which the sperm is still active.

I don't have a problem with reasonably accommodating religious beliefs so long as they don't interfere with the lives of anyone else, but I really wish we had a legal standard here that included "accurate" along with "sincerely held." Many religious beliefs deal with spiritual principles that cannot be experimentally tested, but others are obviously wrong.

So even if these pharmacists do sincerely believe that the morning-after pill "destroys life" - that is, aborts pregnancies - the indisputable scientific fact is that it doesn't. It seems to me at some point we have to come up with a way to exclude religious beliefs that directly contradict physical facts, as opposed to those that truly are matters of conscience. But I digress.

A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional, citing previous Supreme Court rulings that said states cannot pass laws that are aimed at limiting specific religious conduct, while exempting the same conduct undertaken for non-religious reasons.

But an appeals court reversed that ruling, and Tuesday the Supreme Court declined to step in, leaving the law intact. "If this is a sign of hour religious liberty claims will be treated in the years again, those who value religious liberty have cause for threat concern," the three dissenting justices said.

The state defended the law, saying it did not interfere with the religious freedom of individual pharmacists, who can refuse to fill prescriptions for moral or religious reasons. But the employers — the pharmacies — must ensure that customers get their prescribed medications.

And that, right there, is the correct legal solution. If your pharmacy is staffed by nobody but fundamentalists who object to filling your prescription, your right to obtain your medication needs to trump their beliefs. If they have to do rock-paper-scissors to see which of them has to do it, so be it. On the other hand, if another staffer at the pharmacy doesn't have an objection, it doesn't deprive anyone to have that person fill the prescription rather than an objector.

By letting the lower court ruling stand, the Supreme Court made the right decision here. It balances the rights of all parties involved and makes sure that fundamentalists cannot prevent medication from being dispensed. I expect that if this becomes the legal standard, a lot of these cases will just fall by the wayside because it seems like all a lot of these objectors really care about is blocking unbelievers from living their lives as they see fit.

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Rita said...

I wonder whether this pharmacy has ever demanded to see a marriage certificate before filling a Viagra prescription. Selective as usual about which sins they are willing to further and which will offend their delicate consciences.

Scott Stenwick said...

Yeah, the thing that has always amazed me about these folks is how being gay is the most awful sin ever, even though Jesus didn't even mention it.

"All that stuff he actually said about charity for the poor? It doesn't matter one bit as long as you're not gay! In fact, Jesus wants you to be rich, so hoard all the money you can! Just don't be gay!"

The hypocrisy is certainly strong with these folks.