By ZACH NOBLE
Who can forget the stirring words Thomas Jefferson penned 240 years ago:
These days, if you refuse the murder business, you won't have any business at all.
Pharmacists in Washington have been fighting since 2007 against state rules requiring all pharmacies to provide emergency contraceptives. These drugs do not cause abortions, much of the medical community says. But there's a shade of doubt, particularly when you get into the fine definitions of when, exactly, a pregnancy actually starts.
That's the whole ethical question defining the abortion debate in the first place: "Has this thing become a human being yet, and so by ending its existence am I complicit in murder?"
(Well, that's the ethical question for most people.)
Last week, the Supreme Court decided the case wasn't even worth its time.
The state of Washington wrote regulations that specifically targeted moral objectors. For years, if someone came into a Washington pharmacy seeking emergency contraceptives, the pharmacist could refer them to another store that stocked the drugs. (In the case of Ralph’s Thriftway, the pharmacy at the center of the Washington lawsuit, there were more than 30 other pharmacies in a 5-mile radius.)
But in 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy killed the moral exemption, forcing all pharmacies to provide the drugs at all times.
"This case is an ominous sign," wrote Justice Samuel Alito in a muscular dissent. "[T]here is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State."
He lamented the Supreme Court's decision to not bother hearing the case.
"If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern," Alito wrote.
Christian pharmacies will probably go out of business, since their owners and pharmacists can't reconcile their consciences with the state's requirements.
And that, Alito wrote, undermines the state's argument that these regulations are all about ensuring women can access drugs they need.
"The bottom line is clear: Washington would rather have no pharmacy than one that doesn’t toe the line on abortifacient emergency contraceptives," he wrote.
No freedom is more fundamental than the freedom of conscience.
The Washington pharmacists believe that life begins at conception, and so they seek to run their business without providing drugs that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.
They don't want to provide drugs which, they believe, end human life.
With its dismissal, the Supreme Court has decreed that they can take their conscience and shove it.
The USA has survived for nearly a quarter of a millennium, but with cases like Ralph's, the dream of safeguarding "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is dying a slow death on the altar of family planning.
Zach Noble is a journalist who has covered everything from the OPM hack to a rescue dog's retirement party. He's been wrestling to reconcile his bleeding heart Catholicism with his pragmatic libertarianism since that freshman year love affair with Ayn Rand. He tweets erratically as @thezachnoble.