ACLU of Washington Seeks to Join Lawsuit to Defend Access to Medicines

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
August 14, 2007 12:00 am

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OLYMPIA, WA – Patients, physicians and concerned women from across Washington state today announced they are seeking to join the state of Washington in a lawsuit defending new rules that require pharmacies to fill valid prescriptions and provide medications without discrimination or delay. The coalition’s goal is to protect everyone’s right to have access to medicines, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

Representing the coalition jointly are the ACLU of Washington, the Northwest Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood of Western Washington and the law firm Heller Ehrman.

After a lengthy rulemaking process, including numerous public hearings, the state Board of Pharmacy issued the new rules (WAC 246-869-010 and WAC 246-863-095), which protect a patient’s right to access health care without discrimination or delay, and make clear that a pharmacy is responsible for filling all valid prescriptions. Under the rules, pharmacies must dispense medications regardless of pharmacists’ personal feelings about a particular medicine. Pharmacists may ask another pharmacist on duty to provide the medicine, but in all cases the pharmacy must fill the prescription in a timely manner.

On July 26, 2007, the day the rules took effect, two individual pharmacists and a pharmacy owner (Stormans, Inc.) sued the state of Washington, challenging the new rules on constitutional grounds and requesting pharmacies be allowed to refuse to fill customers’ requests for valid prescriptions that conflict with personal beliefs. In court papers filed yesterday, the coalition explained that the issue is a public health matter that involves the rights of patients to promptly obtain the medications their doctors prescribe. In many parts of the state, when a pharmacy refuses to fill a prescription, the next-nearest pharmacy is many miles away.

Coalition members seeking to join the case are:

Judy Billings, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is HIV-positive and has advocated for the rights of HIV and AIDS patients for 10 years. Ms. Billings noted, “Timely access to HIV medication is extremely important, because going without for even a short time can raise my resistance not only to the particular drug, but to the entire class of drugs. This makes the managing the HIV virus much more difficult. If I could not get timely access to these medications it would expose me to serious health risks.”

Rhiannon Andreini, a student at Western Washington University, who was refused access to emergency contraception by a pharmacy in Mukilteo, WA. She sought to obtain emergency contraception after a condom tore during intercourse. “I might need and choose to use emergency contraception in the future. I would like to participate in this litigation to help ensure that I, and all women in Washington, can get timely access to emergency contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy without harassment or hostility,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Schouten, a professor of surgery at the University of Washington and a primary care provider at Harborview Hospital, who stated, “As an HIV care provider, I am aware that some people associate HIV with what they perceive as lifestyle choices with which they do not agree. I am concerned that this poses a risk to people who need access to HIV medication, in that they might face denial or harassment when attempting to fill prescriptions.”

Molly Harmon, a married small business operator in Seattle. She experienced harassment when she sought to fill a prescription for emergency contraception. “I want to ensure that I and others can get timely access to emergency and other contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy,” Harmon said.

Catherine Rosman, a married graduate student living in Spokane, a member of both the Methodist Church and Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom. She has heard numerous accounts of pharmacists who refuse to fill emergency contraception prescriptions, or otherwise act in a hostile or harassing manner to those seeking such prescriptions. “I want to ensure that women are treated with respect when seeking medications,” said Rosman.

Emily Schmidt, a single graduate student who was refused Plan B by three different pharmacies in Wenatchee, WA. “I would like to participate in this litigation to help ensure that I, and all women in Washington, can get timely access to emergency contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy without harassment and hostility,” she said.

Tami Garrard, a single woman from Seattle. If her current method of birth control failed, she would likely use Plan B to prevent an unintended pregnancy. “I want to ensure that I, and other women in Washington, can get timely access to emergency contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy if the need were to arise,” Garrard said.

“The Pharmacy Board has struck the appropriate balance between patients’ rights of access to medication and pharmacists’ individual rights. Patients are now assured that they can get prescriptions filled for HIV medication, emergency contraceptives, and other medications,” said Sarah Dunne, Legal Director of the ACLU of Washington.

“Denying medication to any patient creates an unacceptable barrier to health care. It should not be tolerated,” said Lisa Stone, Executive director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center.

“Patients should be able to get needed medications without discrimination or delay. These rules ensure just that,” said Kelly Reese, Director of the Legal Advance Team of Planned Parenthood of Western Washington.

The Washington State Pharmacy Association, which represents the pharmacy profession, participated in the rulemaking and supports the new rule. More than 70 organizations, including Senior Services of Seattle/King County the American Academy of Pediatrics – Washington Chapter, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, and Lifelong AIDS Alliance, also support the rules.

Handling the case for the coaltion are Rima Alaily and Molly Terwilliger of the firm Heller Ehrman LLP; Sarah Dunne and Aaron Caplan of the ACLU of Washington; Lisa Stone and Nancy Sapiro of the Northwest Women’s Law Center; and Kelly Reese of Planned Parenthood Federation of Western Washington.

Federal Judge Ronald B. Leighton of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington will preside over the case.

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