Opinion

How Pro-Choice Zealots Tried To Run A Family Grocery Store Into The Ground

Erick Erickson Contributor

An excerpt from You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe, by Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen:

Every town in America should be so lucky as to have a grocery store like Ralph’s Thriftway. When Kevin Stormans’s grandfather Ralph started the family business in 1944, such stores were the hub of every community in America. Even today, in an era of impersonal mega-superstores, the two family-owned stores in Olympia, Washington, still thrive as part of the fabric of the local economy. Visitors to Ralph’s Thriftway find the original one-stop-shopping experience with everything from sushi to Starbucks, from Subway to seafood, from a pharmacy to a full-service deli. They find organic produce from local growers, the sweetest treats from local bakers, and the best products from local vendors. Shoppers can even mail letters or have a license renewed while picking up Chinese for dinner.

They always find a friendly face and a warm, family atmosphere so typical of the family businesses that once formed the backbone of the American economy.

But what they won’t find are abortion-inducing drugs in the store’s pharmacy. And for that sin of omission, the Stormanses are being made to care.

It started back in 2006 when a customer visited the pharmacy and asked for “Plan B” birth control medication. Kevin Stormans recalls, “We didn’t carry it. We never had a need to; nobody asked for it. And, frankly, at that point in time I didn’t even know what it was.” After being told that the pharmacy had no demand for the product, the customer called Kevin and became irate — at which point Kevin figured he’d better find out what the fuss was all about. “I started checking into it and realized that one of the possibilities of this product is that it is life-terminating. After the egg is fertilized, [Plan B] can prevent it from implanting. We talked about it as a family and said that’s not something we can support . . . that’s not a product we’re going to carry.”

Kevin and his family made the decision never to stock Plan B or any other medication with abortion-inducing properties in their pharmacy. When the angry customer called again, Kevin cited his religious beliefs as the reason his pharmacy would not carry the product. Hate mail, picketing, and angry phone calls ensued. The governor of Washington even joined in the boycott, canceling her long-standing account with the store. At one point, business dropped by 30 percent because of the bullying.

Then the Washington State Board of Pharmacy told Kevin that the regulations governing referrals had recently changed. They insisted the pharmacy carry the drugs or close. The Stormanses chose a third option and sued to defend their freedom to live consistently with their beliefs.

What they didn’t know at the time was how Planned Parenthood had collaborated with the governor to change the regulations to discriminate against people of faith. But they were going to find out.

Under the new regulations, a pharmacist could no longer refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious reasons. And yet the state allowed pharmacies to refer customers for any other reason — religion alone was singled out for discrimination.

Under the new regulations, a pharmacist could no longer refer a customer to another pharmacy for religious reasons. And yet the state allowed pharmacies to refer customers for any other reason — religion alone was singled out for discrimination.

The Stormanses’ case finally came to trial in federal court in 2012. Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of legal services for Alliance Defending Freedom, describes what happened next:

After a twelve-day trial, the court found that the regulations were intended “primarily (if not solely) to target religious objectors” to Plan B and Ella. Even the chairman of the Board of Pharmacy testified that nothing had changed in the practice of pharmacy in Washington State after these regulations became effective, except religious referrals were banned. Pharmacies continue to refer for business, economic, and convenience reasons, but they are not permitted to do so for religious reasons. In fact, ten times more pharmacies declined to stock Plan B for business reasons than for religious reasons, and 98 percent of all pharmacies either stocked Plan B or had an effective referral mechanism in place to ensure customers received the drug.

The trial court entered over a hundred pages of detailed findings on the evidence. He addressed all of the state’s and Planned Parenthood’s arguments. Planned Parenthood said, We need this regulation to make sure customers have access to drugs. The court sifted through all of the evidence in great detail and held that there is no problem with access to any drug anywhere in the state. There is not one woman in Washington State who has been denied Plan B or Ella due to a pharmacist’s religious objection. You can buy these drugs on the shelf next to Tylenol now. The trial court heard from twenty-two witnesses, most of whom were with the Board of Pharmacy, and reviewed thousands and thousands of documents. It concluded that there was no question the state was allowing pharmacies to refer patients many times a day for convenience reasons or to increase their profit. The sole purpose of the regulations was to force pharmacists with religious objections to Plan B out of pharmacy.

The federal trial court ruled that the regulations were “riddled with exceptions for secular conduct, but contain[ed] no such exceptions for identical, religiously motivated conduct.” But Planned Parenthood, the same organization that profits from the dissecting of unborn children, insisted that religious referrals must be banned. They appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Incredibly, the Ninth Circuit overturned the initial trial court decision despite the fact that no new evidence was presented.

Waggoner calls the Ninth Circuit’s ruling “alarming”:

In our jurisprudential system, when a trial court holds a trial and hears multiple witnesses firsthand, and then makes findings of facts about the testimony and evidence, the appellate is only supposed to reverse those findings if it concludes that the findings clearly contradict the evidence. They did not find that here. They ignored the standard of review. Instead, they essentially just decided the case on a record that they created themselves.

It’s alarming for three significant reasons. First, it is the first time in the history of our nation since the time of the Quakers when we have forced someone to participate in the taking of human life. That’s what’s at issue here. It’s the first time we have not protected providers, either legislatively or judicially, from being forced to potentially participate in taking human life. Second, the rationale from the Ninth Circuit’s decision can apply with equal force to surgical abortions. This rationale could potentially apply to a doctor who doesn’t want to perform an abortion, even a late-term abortion. Under the court’s rationale, the doctor could be forced to do so if a law were passed and applied to all doctors. That’s a chilling and unprecedented ruling. Third, in terms of how our judicial system is supposed to work, the court had an end and it didn’t seem to care as much about the means to get there. That is deeply disturbing, particularly for those who have believed in the American system of law and justice.

The fate of the Stormanses’ multigenerational business now hangs in the balance, as their last legal hope is the U.S. Supreme Court.