The recent, intense debate over whether Kim Davis should go to jail or be a hero means that many Americans are considering conscience rights in light of the redefinition of marriage for the first time. We can learn a lot by looking at a case involving a state conscience claim, not on marriage but on the issue of when life begins.

Our friends at the Family Policy Institute of Washington summarize the case nicely:

[T]he Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [in July] that Washington State can force a pharmacy to sell Plan B despite their moral objections to doing so.

Plan B is a drug many object to because they believe it causes an early state abortion.

In 2007, the Washington State Board of Health created new rules stating that pharmacies must stock and sell Plan B. However, Ralph’s Thriftway challenged the rule and a judge ruled that the First Amendment protected their right to refer customers rather than sell a drug they objected to on moral grounds.

Did you catch that? Ralph’s Thriftway is being banned from referring customers to nearby pharmacies where abortifacient drugs are readily available. “With 33 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store,” said Kevin Stormans (the president of the company), “it is extremely disappointing that the court and the state demand that we violate our conscience or lose our family business.”

Part of the irony is the narrow ban on acting in accordance with a religious conviction. “The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons” including if a drug is not profitable, Stormans pointed out. “In practice, [the state] only bans religiously motivated referrals.”

Some pro-life views, however, are apparently more equal than others in state law. A recent article in U.S. News and World Report noted that the state’s physician-assisted suicide law “specifically carves out a health care provider’s right not to help terminally ill patients induce their own death.”

And earlier this year, leading pharmacist trade groups took steps to discourage their members from providing drugs that could be used in capital punishment, though states do not force pharmacies to do so.

Experts are watching to see if the Supreme Court will take the case and force Washington State to begin respecting the conscience rights of its citizens. But state legislators shouldn’t wait: They should protect conscience rights now, before civil servants like Kim Davis or private citizens like the owners of Ralph’s are sued.