The ruling comes after seven years of litigation over a state mandate requiring all pharmacies and pharmacists to sell Plan B, known as the “morning after pill.” Pharmacists who did not comply were threatened with penalties, including fines and “the loss of professional licenses.”
Several pharmacists and pharmacies that hold moral objections to the morning-after pill because it can cause the abortion of a human embryo filed lawsuits.
A circuit court ruled that “the plaintiffs had sincere religious beliefs preventing them from dispensing emergency contraceptives” and issued a permanent injunction preventing the state from enforcing the mandate against them.
The court of appeals has now affirmed the injunction, arguing that pharmacists and pharmacies are protected under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.
This law prohibits discrimination in health care licensing due to religious objections that prevent cooperation with certain procedures or products.
Rienzi said that the state mandate is an instance of “religious discrimination, as surely as a fine on going to church.”
He noted that in the Illinois case, the defendants made the same argument put forward by the Obama administration in defending the contraception mandate, claiming that the right to religious freedom is surrendered when one enters a for-profit business. However, the court rejected this argument, he said.
The Becket Fund was also involved in a recent Washington state case where a federal court struck down a similar requirement.
Rienzi finds rulings like these encouraging for the ongoing fight over the contraception mandate. More than 80 plaintiffs across the country have filed lawsuits challenging that mandate and the threat that it poses to their free exercise of religion.
The contraception mandate is “particularly offensive,” Rienzi said, because there are numerous other ways for the government to ensure that women have access to contraception without forcing objecting employers to facilitate it.
“There’s no need to do this,” he explained. “These are religious beliefs that people have lived with just fine for our whole history.”