[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the United States [official website] on Tuesday denied [orders list, PDF] certioriari in Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], a case challenging a Washington regulation requiring pharmacies to sell birth control despite potential religious objections of employees. The petitioners, a pharmacy and two pharmacists, challenged the applicability of rules promulgated by the Washington Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission [official website] that require pharmacists to timely deliver prescribed medication, including so-called “Plan B” emergency contraceptives. The regulation allows a pharmacist who objects to Plan B on religious grounds to refuse to fill the prescription provided another, non-objecting employee is available to provide the medication. The petitioners objected to application of the rule under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment [text]. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] found that the asserted rights were not fundamental [opinion, PDF], and thus that the regulations need only pass the “rational basis” test. With Tuesday’s denial of certioari, the Supreme Court has declined to review the decision and the Ninth Circuit’s ruling now controls the question. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, saying that “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”
The debate over abortion law and women’s right of access to contraceptives has gathered a lot of international attention in recent years. In an open letter [text] released in February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy websites], along with five other advocacy groups, urged [JURIST report] Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma [official website] to sign a bill that would increase women’s access to safe and legal abortion. In December 2015, In November a Northern Ireland High Court [official website] ruled [judgment] that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which only allow abortion when the mother faces the risk of death or serious injury, is a violation of human rights [JURIST report]. Also in November, an AI report [press release] stated that woman who suffer miscarriages or complications in the course of their pregnancy can be charged with counts of abortion or even aggravated homicide, which breeds an “atmosphere of suspicion and fear” [JURIST report] surrounding the pregnancy process. In June 2014 The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 that closely held for-profit corporations can deny coverage [JURIST report] of contraception costs because of their religious beliefs.