As anti-choice legislation restricts reproductive healthcare in increasing numbers of states, pharmacy chain Walgreens’ abortion pill “mixed messaging” has raised alarm. Some states now prohibit mifepristone, an FDA-approved medication to abort pregnancies. But Walgreens responded to an inquiry from 20 state attorneys general with a promise to not sell mifepristone in any of their states—including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana, where its sale is not prohibited by law, creating public backlash (Business Insider).
Mifepristone is taken as a pill to abort an early pregnancy or in the case of a miscarriage. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration permitted mifepristone to be sent to patients with a prescription by mail rather than requiring them to pick it up in person. In January, the FDA further expanded the number of pharmacies that can dispense mifepristone with proper certification (NPR). The medicine has been subject to less restrictive regulations in Canada since 2017, and a study found that there has been no corresponding increase in medical complications. Many patients prefer mifepristone to invasive surgical abortions and are better able to access it if it’s prescribed through a telehealth appointment and sent through the mail (NPR).
• Take the time today to support one abortion clinic, doula network, or abortion fund in a state with reproductive healthcare restrictions.
• Take direct action to ensure that people in your community can continue to access reproductive healthcare despite repressive laws.
On February, 20 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to Walgreens that threatened prosecution if the corporation provided mifepristone in their states. The corporation replied that it would not. The problem is that these states included not only those where its sale would be illegal, such as Texas, but also states where mifepristone is legal for the pharmacy to dispense, such as Kansas, where a relevant case is still moving through the court system. It appears that Walgreens leadership decided the most profitable move would be to preemptively stop filling mifepristone prescriptions in states where its ultimate legality was still undecided. Similar letters were sent to chains like CVS, Costco, and Rite Aid, though it is not yet known if they similarly agreed to the attorneys’ general demands (NPR).
Public denunciation of Walgreens’ abortion pill agreement was swift (Politico). California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state “won’t be doing business with Walgreens,” perhaps indicating that he plans to remove the company from state health insurance plans (NPR). As talk of a national boycott spread and the company’s share price started to drop, the corporation appeared to change course with a statement that its plan “has always been” to maintain access to mifepristone wherever legally permissible (Business Insider).
There is also a chance that mifepristone will get banned throughout the United States. A case before a Texas federal court alleges that the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone was illegal. Should the judge agree, mifepristone might be unavailable nationwide (Forbes). Something previously unthinkable to many of us born in a post-Roe world may be imminent: sweeping federal restrictions on abortion access across both Republican and Democratic majority states.
An unaccountable judicial system could ban the safe termination of pregnancy by medication—and treatment of miscarriages—with the stroke of a pen. In the meantime, almost everyone receives medical treatment through a set of for-profit corporations willing to go even farther than the law requires in cutting off medical care, so long as it benefits their shareholders. Across the country, grassroots activists and healthcare providers are taking direct action to ensure that reproductive care continues for patients, despite mounting legal risks and political repression (The Nation). Forcing people to carry unwanted or unsafe pregnancies to term is a potentially-lethal injustice. Should the institutions tasked with providing medicine and pronouncing justice decide to impose this injustice by force, it falls on us to take risks and provide the support necessary to protect bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
• Walgreens agreed to stop providing abortion medication in states whose governments objected, even when not required by law.
• Medication abortion is also under threat in federal court.
• We can act to preserve reproductive healthcare access in our communities even if medical corporations and the U.S. government won’t.