California’s Newsom suspends Walgreens contract over abortion pill policy
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California on Wednesday suspended a $54 million contract with Walgreens over the pharmacy chain’s decision not to distribute mifepristone in at least 20 states, including some where abortion is legal, as controversy over the drug used in medical abortions continues to escalate. .
“California will not stand by while corporations pander to extremists and cut off critical access to reproductive care and freedom,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement. Noting that the country has one of the largest economies in the world, he added that “we will use our market power to protect the right to choose.”
Newsom this week called for a review of all contracts between California and Walgreens after the pharmacy chain pledged not to sell mifepristone in states where it had received legal threats from Republican leaders. The discontinued contract allows California state agencies — primarily the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — to buy specialty prescription drugs from Walgreens and was due to be renewed May 1, the governor’s office said in a statement.
Walgreens drew a line on access to abortion pills and is paying a price
Walgreens said it is “deeply disappointed” by the state’s decision and that once it is certified to distribute mifepristone, it plans to do so in states where it is legal, including California.
“We will distribute this medication in accordance with federal and state laws. Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate,” Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said in an email.
The American Medical Association says mifepristone is a safe and effective treatment for inducing abortion. Since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, the drug has been used by more than 3 million women in the United States, the AMA said.
Mifepristone is the first pill used in the two-drug regimen for medication abortions, which now account for more than half of pregnancy terminations in the United States.
But Walgreens is caught in a post-Roe v. Wade conflict as anti-abortion groups and conservative leaders intensify efforts to limit abortion access.
Twenty Republican state leaders last month sent a letter to the chain threatening legal action if it mailed abortion pills to their states, citing a federal law that prohibits mailing anything that could induce an abortion. . The Justice Department, in an opinion published in December, said the law does not prohibit the posting of abortion pills unless they are used illegally.
Attorneys general who signed the letter include those from Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana, where abortion is legal.
Walgreens responded to each of the leaders in the same month by not pledging not to ship or sell mifepristone in their states, leading to criticism that it had bowed to the pressure — and to California’s decision to cut ties with the chain.
As of now, Walgreens does not sell the pill in any states as it is awaiting certification to do so from the FDA.
Other drugstore chains are facing similar pressures. Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach on Feb. 21 wrote to CVS, the nation’s largest retail pharmacy, asking it to follow Walgreens’ example and not sell the drug there.
The Texas judge who could strike down the abortion pill
The issue is further complicated by varying state requirements for medication abortions. In some states, including Alaska and Iowa, this form of abortion must be administered by a physician. In Iowa, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January to completely ban the manufacture and sale of mifepristone.
There are also ongoing legal battles with nationwide implications. In Texas, a conservative judge appointed by President Donald Trump is expected to rule soon on the FDA’s approval of mifepristone two decades ago, which could affect Democratic-led states where abortion rights are protected.
California isn’t the only state that has condemned Walgreens. JB Pritzker, the Democratic governor of Illinois, where the chain is headquartered, said he will meet with its CEO this week on the issue, local media reported. In a tweet earlier this week, Pritzker asked the company to rethink its policy.