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Walgreens Sparks Backlash After Refusing to Dispense Abortion Pills in 20 States

Newsom, Hochul, and more respond to the pharmacy chain’s March 2 announcement.

Image: saaton/Shutterstock

California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that the state will cease doing business with the pharmacy giant Walgreens after Walgreens announced on March 2 that it will not dispense the abortion pill mifepristone in 20 U.S. states.

Newsom’s Response

Walgreens’s announcement from Thursday of last week came in response to a letter that Walgreens received in February from nearly two dozen attorneys general in red states, who threatened legal action if Walgreens distributed mifepristone.

On Monday, March 6, Governor Gavin Newsom announced via Twitter that the state of California has cut ties with Walgreens. On Wednesday, Newsom ordered state officials to withdraw a $54 million contract with Walgreens that was up for renewal.

In a news release, Newsom said,

California will not stand by as corporations cave to extremists and cut off critical access to reproductive care and freedom. California is on track to be the fourth largest economy in the world and we will leverage our market power to defend the right to choose.

Newsom in a news release

Newsom’s decision to end the state’s contract with Walgreens comes amidst a flurry of backlash that Walgreens has been receiving ever since the pharmacy chain announced its refusal to distribute mifepristone.

Walgreens Faces Criticism

According to a statement that the corporation made on March 6, Walgreens “plans to dispense Mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so.” The statement, which mentions Walgreens’s “commitment to the communities in which we operate,” indicates that Walgreens intends to begin distributing mifepristone in states where abortion is legal once it receives its FDA certification to do so.

However, Walgreens is still garnering criticism on social media for its compliance with the demands of Republican state attorneys general, and its decision to refuse to distribute mifepristone even in red states such like Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana, where abortion remains legal, albeit with heavy restrictions.

Walgreens, meanwhile, has limited users’ ability to comment on its social media posts, putting restrictions on Twitter and Facebook comments and hiding the comment section on Instagram completely.

FDA Changes Pharmacies’ Role in Abortion

On January 3, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new certification process for pharmacies in the United States to become eligible to sell the mifepristone pill.

At the time, abortion rights activist groups, including the Expanding Medication Abortion Access (EMAA) Project, hailed the new certification process as a major step forward in increasing medication abortion’s availability in the United States. Morgan Hopkins, president of the abortion justice group All* Above All, tweeted on January 3,

We applaud the FDA for lifting unnecessary requirements on medication abortion. This brings us one step closer toward a future where people can get the care they need in ways that are comfortable and make sense for them, including at a local pharmacy like any other prescription.

Morgan Hopkins, All* Above All president

However, Walgreens’s refusal last week to dispense abortion medication is troubling to many abortion rights activists, who worry that Walgreens is setting a precedent for other pharmacies to refuse to distribute mifepristone despite the FDA’s pharmacy certification process.

E. Michael Murphy, the American Pharmacists Association’s adviser for state government affairs, said that APA members are struggling to navigate,

Blatant contradictions between state and federal law that make it very challenging to identify what is legal and what is not legal. We are very concerned with those reports because we as pharmacists want to ensure the patients have access to the best possible care that’s informed by evidence.

E. Michael Murphy, American Pharmacists Association
According to Morgan Hopkins, president of All* Above All, abortion medication should be available “at a local pharmacy like any other prescription.” Image: QualityHD/Shutterstock

Other Governors’ Responses

Meanwhile, Newsom is not the only governor to push back against Walgreens’s refusal to distribute abortion medication in their state. On Thursday, March 9, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York state Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to the CEOs of Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS Health—the nation’s largest pharmacy chains—urging the corporations to commit to making abortion pills available at their New York locations. In their letter, Hochul and James stress “the critical role that pharmacies play” in allowing access to “essential health care.”

The letter also reminds the three CEOs of New York’s “simple” laws that make abortion legally protected in the state, as opposed to other states’ restrictive anti-abortion laws that Walgreens has claimed cemented the decision to refuse to distribute abortion medication in all states. Given that New York imposes no such restrictions, Hochul and James’s letter asks, “what is the legal basis for this decision?”

Last month, a group of 21 Democrat governors, initiated by Newsom and including Hochul, announced that they are forming a coalition to protect abortion access in their respective states as abortion bans continue to be enacted around the country. The newly formed Reproductive Freedom Alliance will work as a formal structure for governors to respond together to abortion bans coming from Republican states.

A joint statement from the group says, “As governors representing more than 170 million people across every region of the country, we are standing with all people who believe in reproductive freedom and health care. We are standing with them to say, ‘enough.’”

Written By

Hi! I'm Ava (she/her) and I'm a Columbia University student studying English! I'm originally from Los Angeles, and I love writing about breaking news, politics, and social and feminist issues.

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