Federal appeals court won't yet overturn "Plan B" ruling

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday left in place a lower court’s ruling that allowed Washington state pharmacists to refuse to sell emergency contraceptive “morning after” pills on religious grounds.

A federal judge in Seattle suspended state rules that required pharmacies to dispense “Plan B” and other emergency contraceptives that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting, which some people believe is the same as abortion.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton found that the state rules force pharmacists into an unconstitutional choice between their religious beliefs and their work.

State officials and several women had asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to suspend the judge’s preliminary injunction, which bars them from enforcing the law, while they appeal his ruling.

In a split decision, the appeals court denied that request. finding that the state and the women did not show that they would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction stays in place pending the appeal.

The justices granted the state’s motion to speed up the appellate proceedings, which were set for oral argument on June 3 in Seattle.

The case was brought by Stormans Inc, doing business as Ralph’s Thriftway, and pharmacists Rhonda Mesler and Margo Thelen.

Reporting by Gina Keating, editing by Maureen Bavdek