By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The state of Washington can require a pharmacy to deliver medicine even if the pharmacy's owner has a religious objection, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, the latest in a series of judgments on whether religious believers can opt out of providing services.
The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, came in a case filed by pharmacists who objected to delivering emergency contraceptives. The 9th Circuit overturned a lower court that had said the rules were unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed closely held corporations to seek exemptions from the Obamacare health law's contraception requirement.
In Washington, the state permits a religiously objecting individual pharmacist to deny medicine, so long as another pharmacist working there provides timely delivery. The rules require a pharmacy to deliver all medicine, even if the owner objects.
A unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel on Thursday decided that the rules are constitutional because they rationally further the state's interest in patient safety. Speed is particularly important considering the time-sensitive nature of emergency contraception, the court said.
"The time taken to travel to another pharmacy, especially in rural areas where pharmacies are sparse, may reduce the efficacy of those drugs," wrote Judge Susan Graber.
Representatives for the plaintiffs and Washington State's attorney general office could not immediately be reached for comment.