For four generations, my family has operated our business on one principle: Help people. All people. It’s what has made us successful and able to pour much of our profits back into our community.
We never expected it to be the reason we’d file a lawsuit against our home state of Washington.
We don’t stock a number of drugs — including Plan B and ella — because our customers generally don’t request them. But we don’t stock these two drugs for an additional reason: Both can cause early-stage abortion. Selling them would violate our religious beliefs and our commitment to helping all people, even the unborn.
The state has argued that our religious convictions will prevent people from getting the medication they need. That’s simply not true.
There’s a time-honored practice in the pharmacy profession of offering referrals when a particular pharmacist cannot supply a particular medication. Pharmacists in every state, including Washington, offer referrals for any number of reasons: a drug is unprofitable, there’s too much paperwork or time involved in dispensing the drug, or the pharmacy wants to cater to a particular market niche. In 49 states, pharmacists can refer a patient also for conscience or religious reasons.
The only state that prohibits conscience-based referrals is Washington. It passed a law banning conscience-based referrals even though no one in the entire state had been denied access to any drug because of a religiously motivated referral.
When the law passed, it became clear that our state government was determined to make us choose between running our business and following our consciences. So, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, we filed suit in federal court.
That wasn’t an easy decision but the state put us in an impossible position, and we stand on firm legal ground: The Constitution protects our freedom of conscience, and it doesn’t permit government to tell us that we can’t run our businesses in a manner consistent with our religious convictions.
It’s worth noting, however, that beyond the constitutional arguments, the Washington law is unnecessary. The state has argued that our religious convictions will prevent people from getting the medication they need. That’s simply not true. Thirty pharmacies within a five-mile radius of our pharmacy in Ralph’s Thriftway sell Plan B and ella. The state continues to allow referrals for every other reason. The only referrals they’ve banned are ones based on conscience.
We could have given up. But we went back to the same principle that’s always guided us — the principle of helping all people through everything we do. We realized that dropping the case and accepting an unjust judgment would violate that principle.
Two pharmacists who don’t work for us are standing with us in this lawsuit. If we don’t defend the right to follow conscience together, others will suffer. If the government is allowed the power to force someone to take innocent human life, then there really is no limit on the power of government over every aspect of our personal lives.
So we petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear our case. Never in a hundred years did we imagine that we’d ask the nation’s highest court to consider a lawsuit against our home state. But we know it’s the right thing to do.We are not alone in our concerns. Fourteen amicus briefs were filed with the Supreme Court in support of us, including one signed by the American Pharmacists Association and 37 other professional pharmacy associations. That brief is particularly powerful; it says: “The Ninth Circuit’s decision effectively eliminated pharmacists’ right not to participate in actions they conscientiously oppose, even though a ‘right of conscience’ has always been integral to the ethical practice of pharmacy.” Forty-three members of Congress, 13 state attorneys general, 29 notable legal scholars, and more than 4,600 individual health-care professionals have also signed briefs on our side.
The Stormans family has been doing business in Washington for 70 years. We want to be able to pass our business on to our children, knowing that they’ll never find themselves in the position of having to choose between living according to their convictions and running their business.
Most of all, we want to help people, all people, in every way we can. That means providing the best service and products we can. It turns out that also means something we never expected: appealing to the Supreme Court to defend our — and your — freedom.
— Greg Stormans is vice president of Stormans, Inc., which operates Ralph’s Thriftway and Bayview Thriftway in Olympia, Wash.