Walgreens is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny after it confirmed last week it won’t sell the abortion drug mifepristone in states where Republican attorneys general told the pharmacy not to—even if abortion is still legal there—as Democrats have called to boycott the company while it also faces potential legal action from anti-abortion rights activists.
Walgreens confirmed to Politico last week it would not sell or ship mifepristone, which is used to terminate a pregnancy, in at least 21 states after Republican attorneys general had sent requests for the pharmacy not to—including in some states where abortion remains legal, such as Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Montana.
That’s now sparked significant pushback from the left, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) saying on Twitter Monday, “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens — or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk … We’re done.”
Filmmaker and Democratic activist Michael Moore called for a national boycott of the company Monday, saying Walgreens “caved in to threats from the extremist anti-abortion/Forced Birth movement” and is “further cement[ing] women’s status as second-class citizens.”
Walgreens issued a new statement Monday in response to the controversy reinforcing the pharmacy’s dedication to providing mifepristone where abortion is legal—even though it is legal in some of the states where they’ve said they won’t dispense it—and limited commenting on the company’s Instagram and Facebook accounts Monday.
Walgreens’ commitment to still provide mifepristone in some states has drawn ire from anti-abortion rights advocates, who have staged protests at Walgreens locations, and Politico reports anti-abortion groups are looking into taking legal action against Walgreens and other pharmacies that dispense the drug.
Walgreens has not yet responded to a request for comment on clarifying the company’s statement Monday with its previous commitment not to provide mifepristone in some states where abortion is legal.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week Walgreens caving into Republican AGs’ demands was “dangerous and just unacceptable.” The move to oppose the pills being sold is “all a part of a continued effort by anti-abortion extremists who want to use this arcane law to impose a backdoor ban on abortion,” Jean-Pierre said, referring to the 19th century Comstock Act after attorneys general threatened to sue Walgreens under that law if they mailed abortion pills. The White House did not confirm if it had spoken to Walgreens or other pharmacies, or if it would take any action in response to Walgreens’ unwillingness to provide the pills in some states.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D) told Politico he was sympathetic to Walgreens’ decision not to provide mifepristone in some states after holding an emergency meeting with the company—which is headquartered in Illinois—last week. While he was prepared to “hammer away at Walgreens” for their decision, Raoul said he realized the company was “in a landscape where they don’t know who the next administration may be” and made a “strategic choice” to avoid legal liability. “They’re acting in their business-first interest,” Raoul said. “If, God forbid, one of these extreme candidates were elected president, they could be subject to not only civil but criminal action.”
What We Don’t Know
What other pharmacies will do. Republican attorneys general sent similar requests to CVS, Albertsons, Rite Aid, Costco, Walmart and Kroger asking them not to send abortion pills, Politico reports, but none have commented yet on whether or not they’re giving into those demands. CVS has previously confirmed it would provide mifepristone where legal, while Rite Aid said it would dispense the drug in a limited number of stores. The other companies had not yet publicly made statements on the medication prior to Walgreens’ decision.
In their letters to Walgreens and other pharmacies, Republican attorneys general specifically took issue with abortion pills being dispensed through the mail. The letter opposes a legal opinion from the Biden Administration that said mailing abortion pills is legal under federal law, even in states where the procedure is banned, and threatened litigation if pharmacies went forward with mailing pills anyway. Walgreens’ response has gone a step further, however, as the pharmacy also promised not to provide mifepristone in brick-and-mortar stores in addition to not shipping them by mail.
Mifepristone is one of two drugs that’s taken during a medication abortion, as the drug terminates a pregnancy before misoprostol is used to expel the tissue. (Misoprostol is also used for other conditions and has not been subject to the same legal scrutiny.) Medication abortion accounts for more than half of U.S. abortions and has grown in popularity since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as the pills have been easier to obtain for people in states where abortion is now banned than a surgical abortion. The Biden Administration moved in January to now make mifepristone available at brick-and-mortar pharmacies for the first time, resulting in the new scrutiny on Walgreens and other major retail pharmacies over whether or not they’d provide the drugs. The growing prevalence of abortion pills has also led to more pushback against them from the right, as anti-abortion rights advocates are now challenging the drug’s governmental approval in federal court as GOP lawmakers introduce legislation to impose new restrictions on obtaining the medication.
Walgreens Won’t Sell Abortion Pills In These States—Even Though Abortion Is Legal There (Forbes)
Abortion Pills: What To Know About Mifepristone As Biden Administration Defends It From Legal Attack (Forbes)
Walgreens in the hot seat (Politico)
‘Dangerous and unacceptable’: White House condemns efforts to stop pharmacies from dispensing abortion pills (Politico)
CVS and Walgreens Plan to Offer Abortion Pills Where Abortion Is Legal (New York Times)
Mailing abortion pills could break law, Republican AGs tell pharmacies (Reuters)