Plan B Battle Comes Before Pharmacy Board Tomorrow

Christian and pro-choice groups are poised for battle over new hearings about whether pharmacists should be required to dispense Plan B, the so-called morning after pill. The first of two hearings before the state Pharmacy Board is tomorrow in Renton, and both sides are asking their supporters to swoop in. If the hearing is anything like the debate already happening on the state Department of Health website, it's going to get lively.

To recap, the Pharmacy Board in 2007 passed rules requiring pharmacies to dispense all legally prescribed medications, including Plan B, over the vociferous objections of anti-abortion activists. Several pharmacists sued in a case known as Stormans v. Selecky. In July, that case, currently before a federal court in Tacoma, was stayed pending the board's sudden announcement that it was considering changing the rules to allow pharmacists to refer clients elsewhere over matters of conscience. There's no draft proposal to that effect as yet, says DOH spokesperson Tim Church, but the testimony online and in hearings will help the board determine whether or not to make a change.

"It is essential that the board hears the voice of those who support conscience rights," writes Joe Fuiten, a prominent evangelical pastor with Bothell's Cedar Park Church, in an e-mail bulletin sent out yesterday. Likewise, NARAL Washington, the abortion rights group, tells supporters on its website: "Do not let the Pharmacy Board backtrack on its support for patient access."

Both sides have consequently flooded a DOH Web page devoted to soliciting comments on the proposed changes. As of this morning, there were 467 comments, with the advantage seeming to go to those outraged that "the board is even considering this issue," as one commenter put it.

"Get out of being a pharmacist, go be a tent preacher," reads one blunt post." Says another: "The pharmacy window is not the place for diatribe, shame, humiliation, or second guessing."

In opposition, a commenter writes: "To not provide a means for pharmacists to act according to conscience is to treat them as unthinking vending machines and elevate the consumer's wish for convenience as the supreme value." A like-minded soul gets straight to the point: "Abortion is murder plain and simple."

Here's where you can add your own comment about requiring pharmacists to dispense Plan B, and here's where you can get directions to the hearings . The board may make a decision as soon as February.

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