For nearly four generations and over 70 years, the Stormans family has owned and operated Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftways in Olympia, Washington. These independent, neighborhood grocery stores, together, are an important part of the community. “We’ve grown up with a lot of people, and they view us as a being a part of the community,” Kevin Stormans, president of Stormans, Inc., says. “We want to give back and respect that, because we live here. We want to make it great, too.”
Since the beginning, the Stormans have run their business consistent with their Christian faith. That faith informs their decisions about their stores, from the way they interact with employees and their community, to their decision to not stock early abortifacient drugs, like the morning-after pill (Plan B) and ella in Ralph’s Thriftway’s pharmacy.
In 2006, Kevin Stormans received a phone call asking why he didn’t carry Plan B in his pharmacy. The question initially caught him off guard. When Kevin decided to research the drug, he learned that the FDA warned that it could prevent implantation of a fertilized egg – in other words, it could terminate human life after conception. Kevin and the rest of the Stormans family knew they couldn’t stock the drug because of their religious beliefs. They believe that life is sacred, and they can’t participate in the taking of human life. The family instructed employees to refer customers to the over 30 nearby pharmacies that regularly carry Plan B.
Pro-abortion activists, including Planned Parenthood, continued to “test-shop” Ralph’s. They would ask for Plan B and then file complaints with the State of Washington. They also began protesting the store, blocking entrances, disturbing traffic, creating a website to promote a boycott, and picketing. Even the Governor of Washington joined the boycott.
Throughout all of this time, pharmacies in Washington State (and every other state) were permitted to refer customers to nearby pharmacies – for any reason and for any drug. But in 2007, after extreme pressure from pro-abortion groups, threats by the Governor to replace the Pharmacy Commission and her eventual replacement of two Commission members, the Commission issued new regulations designed to prohibit pharmacies from referring Plan B customers for religious reasons. In practice, the Commission allowed pharmacies to continue to refer customers – for essentially any other reason.
The Stormans were faced with a tough choice—sell Plan B, close the pharmacy, or file a lawsuit. Alliance Defending Freedom and allied attorneys at Ellis, Li & McKinstry PPLC in Seattle filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Stormans and pharmacists Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen.
After holding a 12-day federal trial with 22 witnesses and nearly 800 exhibits, the court ruled that the Pharmacy Commission cannot force the family-owned pharmacy and two pharmacists to choose between their professions and their religious beliefs. The Court found that no customer has ever been unable to obtain timely access to Plan B or any other drug due to religious objections. It also held that the rules were “drafted for the primary – perhaps sole – purpose of forcing pharmacies (and, in turn, pharmacists) to dispense Plan B over their sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and are, as a result, unconstitutional.
The State and Intervenors, represented by Planned Parenthood, appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision. The implications of this ruling are significant, not only for pharmacists and pharmacy owners individually, but also for the business of pharmacy. Health care providers have enjoyed the ability to engage in facilitated referral for many years. These kinds of referrals are often the best means of meeting a patient’s needs in a timely fashion. The Ninth Circuit ruling prohibits pharmacists from engaging in facilitated referral, forcing pharmacies to stock and dispense drugs demanded by the state and/or patients. It also conflicts with the position of 34 pharmacy organizations, including the American Pharmacist Association. These groups have called the regulations at issue “truly radical” and “grossly out of step with state regulatory practice.”
For these reasons, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, and Ellis, Li & McKinstry PLLC filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court, asking them to hear the Stormans’ case.
Unfortunately, on June 28, 2016, the Court denied review.
In the meantime, the Stormans family remains committed to honoring God in all they do. Kevin recently said, “I don’t know what the end result’s going to be. But it’s clear we’re here for a purpose. I’ll just ride this ship and do the right thing and believe God’s going to use that for His glory.”