Walgreens' position on abortion pills is costing them business in one the largest states of America.
Yesterday, the governor of California Gavin Newsom tweeted (Mar. 6) that the Golden State would cease doing business with the chain of pharmacy stores because it is not selling mifepristone, an abortion medication that has been on the market for more than two decades.
"California will not do business with Walgreens or any other company that bows to extremists and puts women’s lives at risk. The governor declared that the state was done. Newsom tweeted a link to a CNN article about Walgreens' decision not to sell abortion pills to more than 20 Republican-led States.
Walgreens' decision does not apply to the states where abortion is illegal like Texas and Kentucky, but also states like Alaska and Florida where it remains legal.
California, along with Vermont and Michigan, voted to include abortion rights in its constitution during November 2022 midterm elections. A spokesperson for Newsom said that 'all relationships between Walgreens' and the democratic state are currently under review. However, he declined to discuss how business ties could change. California has 586 Walgreens locations, which is the third highest after Texas and Florida.
Charted: States in which Walgreens has stopped selling abortion pills
Here's a brief overview of Walgreens' position on abortion pills.
Jan. 3, 2009: FDA approves a rule that retail pharmacies can dispense mifepristone pills for prescriptions. This is subject to special safety rules. Patients had to get the medication from their doctor, hospital or health center. In 2020, more than half of all US abortions were due to medication abortions.
Jan. 5, CVS and Walgreens say they will both apply to be certified to sell the Pill.
February 1, 20: Twenty Republican attorneys general write Walgreens warning them that the state law makes it illegal to sell the pill.
Mar. 3: Walgreens says it has responded to all attorneys general, saying it won't sell the pill in their states. Some customers say they're canceling accounts and redirecting prescriptions to other pharmacies in protest.
6: Governor Newsom of California says that the state will end its ties to Walgreens. Separately, Michael Moore, a filmmaker, calls for a boycott of Walgreens. He encourages people to picket their local Walgreens and other forms of protest. Walgreens promises to sell the medication wherever it is legal.
A brief explainer of what's 'illegal' about pharmacies selling abortion pills
Missouri attorney general Andrew Bailey led the coalition of attorneys general directing letters to major pharmacies—Walgreens, CVS, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Rite Aid—warning them against distributing abortion pills in the mail. He wrote in a Mar. 2 Facebook post that he is 'ensuring that pharmacies throughout the nation aren't subverting state and federal statute to ship abortion pills in the mail.'
Bailey and other Republicans are using a 150-year-old law—The Comstock Act of 1873—which outlawed sending through the mail 'any obscene items' as a crutch to prevent shipments of abortion pills. However, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has clearly stated that mailing abortion pills is perfectly legal, unless the intent to use them is unlawful.
Quotable: The White House denounces Republican anti-abortion pressure
'Elected officials targeting pharmacies and their ability to provide women with access to safe, effective, and FDA-approved medication is dangerous and just unacceptable…This is all a part of a continued effort by anti-abortion extremists who want to use this arcane law to impose a door—a backdoor ban on abortion.' — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Mar. 3
One more thing: The lawsuit that could make mifepristone illegal
A Texas anti-abortion group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to revoke the FDA's approval of mifepristone in November 2022. The group claimed that the FDA approved the drug 23 year ago and did not have sufficient evidence of its safety.
Matthew Kacsmaryk, a US district judge, was appointed by Donald Trump. He could rule in favor the plaintiffs. According to Amanda Allen, an attorney and director at The Lawyering Project in New York City, which works to improve access to abortion, he 'has deep connections to the religious right' and has issued rulings that were based on very, very conservative ideologies.
Such a decision would pull the drug off the market, effectively resulting in a nationwide ban. 'If FDA approval of mifepristone is revoked, 64.5 million women of reproductive age in the US would lose access to medication abortion care, an exponential increase in harm overnight,' non-profit NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a February statement.