Published Online: Saturday, July 1, 2006

Pharmacists in Washington State will have the right to refuse to dispense emergency contraceptives but will be obliged to refer disappointed patients to other sources, under new regulations issued by the pharmacy board in Olympia.

The "refuse and refer" rule, which was unanimously approved by the board, would allow Washington pharmacists to decline to sell products such as the so-called morning-after birth control pill if they are personally opposed to the use of these drugs. At the same time, however, the regulations prohibit pharmacists from obstructing a patient in obtaining "a lawfully prescribed drug or device." The rule requires them to offer patients "timely alternatives" if they refuse to fill a prescription.

Although the rule drew strong support from pharmacy groups in the state, it has attracted criticism from abortion groups as well as from Washington Democratic Gov Christine Gregoire, who has characterized the "refuse and refer" rule as an approach that discriminates against women.

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