- Medication abortion is the most common abortion procedure, accounting for about 53% of abortions in the U.S.
- But Walgreens announced that it will not distribute the abortion medication mifepristone in 20 states.
- The decision was made in response to a letter written by a group of 20 Republican attorneys general warning Walgreens and CVS that they could face legal consequences if they sell abortion pills by mail in their states.
Walgreens announced on Friday that it will not be distributing the abortion medication mifepristone in 20 states.
The decision was made in response to a letter written by a group of 20 Republican attorneys general warning Walgreens and CVS that they could face legal consequences if they sell abortion pills by mail in their states.
In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that retail pharmacies could dispense mifepristone — the first of two drugs used to end early pregnancies.
The medication could previously only be obtained at a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital.
Walgreens is currently getting FDA-certified to sell mifepristone at its retail locations in the rest of the country.
It does not yet dispense mifepristone.
The letter to Walgreens was signed by attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
Although the abortion medications are legal in several of these states — including Alaska, Iowa, and Montana — Walgreens caved to the request of the attorneys general to avoid legal risks.
“I can confirm we have responded to the state attorneys general letter to Walgreens dated February 1 by indicating we will not dispense mifepristone in their respective states,” a Walgreens spokesperson told Healthline.
“We intend to be a certified pharmacy and will distribute mifepristone only in those jurisdictions where it is legal,” the Walgreens spokesperson added.
Medication abortion expands access to safe, effective care
Medication abortion is the most common abortion procedure, accounting for about 53 percent of abortions in the U.S.
Research consistently shows that the medications are well-tolerated and can be safely administered via telehealth.
“When people have the right information, resources, and support, they can safely self-manage their abortion care,” Dr. Ashley Jeanlus, a physician for reproductive health and a complex family planning fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, said.
Allowing people to obtain the pills by mail decreases barriers to care and reduces costs associated with getting an abortion.
“This is especially relevant in abortion care because most people in need of abortion care are already parents and many are living on low incomes and in under-resourced communities,” Jeanlus said.
Restricting access will likely lead to poorer maternal health outcomes
Walgreens is the second largest retail pharmacy chain in the country and restricting the distribution of mifepristone at several of its locations will have countless negative effects on the health and wellbeing of people who want or need an abortion.
Michele Bratcher Goodwin, JD, the director of the Center for Biotechnology & Global Health Policy at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, says the announcement highlights how healthcare has become politicized.
“This is a troubling decision by a major corporation that describes itself as a ‘go to’ source for healthcare needs,” Goodwin said.
Already, millions of people live in abortion deserts located at least 100 miles away from an abortion care provider.
Online and retail pharmacies could significantly improve access to medication abortion by reducing geographic and financial barriers to care.
Evidence shows that restricting access to abortion is associated with poorer maternal and child health outcomes.
Pregnant people living in states that limit abortion services have to travel farther to access care, often to clinics that — due to the growing demand from nearby restrictive states — have longer wait times.
This, inevitably, would push some people later into their pregnancy before they’re able to access timely abortion care, says Jeanlus.
While later abortion care is safe, it’s associated with additional costs, higher medical risks, and difficulties finding a provider, according to Jeanlus.
“It would mean forcing people with complex medical and social conditions to put their health and well-being at risk,” Jeanlus said.
Many people may be forced to remain pregnant, says Jeanlus.
The lack of access to safe, effective care could also contribute to the already-high maternal mortality rates in the US, says Goodwin.
“The reality is that maternal mortality is glaring in the United States. The rates of maternal morbidity are shocking,” Goodwin said.
All eyes are on whether the other major retail pharmacies — CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid, and Costco — will follow suit.
Rite Aid said it’s monitoring the latest federal, state, legal, and regulatory developments regarding mifepristone and will evaluate the company’s distortion abilities according to any developments, CNN reported.
Jeanlus suspects other pharmacies may limit their distribution of mifepristone.
“Whenever politicians, lawyers, or judges try to insert themselves in the safe provision of healthcare, the only possible outcome is to sow fear and confusion,” Jeanlus said.
Meanwhile, a judge in Texas may enact a nationwide ban against mifepristone.
The anti-abortion group Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine sued the FDA in November 2022, asking the agency to withdraw mifepristone from the market.
If the judge grants an emergency injunction, the distribution of mifepristone in every state would come to an immediate halt.
The case, which is one of many recent attempts to ban abortion nationwide, highlights how abortion rights are under attack.
“People deserve to have the abortion they want and need and to help people get the abortions they want and need without fear of surveillance, punishment, or going to jail,” Jeanlus said.
The bottom line:
Walgreens announced on Friday that it will not be distributing the abortion medication mifepristone in 20 states. The decision was made in response to a letter written by a group of 20 Republican attorneys general warning the retail giant that it could face legal consequences if they sell abortion pills by mail. Walgreens does not yet dispense mifepristone, but is currently getting FDA-certified to sell mifepristone at its retail locations in the rest of the country.
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