Walgreens ends sale of abortion drug in some GOP-controlled states where it remains legal

Walgreens, the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain, said it will not dispense abortion pills in several states where the drug remains legal. The decision comes after nearly two dozen Republican attorneys general wrote to the company threatening legal action. Sarah Varney of Kaiser Health News joined Amna Nawaz to discuss the decision.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The nation's second largest pharmacy chain, Walgreens, said today it will not dispense abortion pills in several states where the drug remains legal.

    The decision comes after nearly two dozen Republican attorneys general wrote to the company threatening legal action.

    Sarah Varney is a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, joins me now.

    Sarah, it's good to see you.

    Let's just start with a map, if we can. I want to show folks the states we're talking about; 21 attorneys general from these states shown here have threatened that legal action. In many of them, abortion is already illegal or severely restricted. But, in four, in four shown here, Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana, Walgreens could still legally dispense those pills, but they're saying that they still won't.

    So, Sarah, what kind of an impact are we talking about in those four states and for whom?

  • Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News:

    Well, the biggest impact I think right now is just to show that these legal threats work. So, right now, abortion medication is not available in these pharmacies.

    You have to get it from a clinician who has a specific registration with the government. Or you can get it via some telehealth medicine, some telehealth pharmacies. So it will change nothing on the ground in this moment. But the idea was to really try and actually allow dispensing of mifepristone in these pharmacies in communities, so that they were more accessible to women in what is typically a very-time sensitive situation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, if you live in one of those states and you're seeking abortion care, what will be your options?

  • Sarah Varney:

    Well, you could — depending on some of the telehealth restrictions in your state, you could do a telehealth appointment with someone outside of the state. You could order it from an online pharmacy, like Honey Health — Honeybee Health, rather.

    You could order it from Aid Access, which is an organization based in Austria that has been sending them mifepristone and misoprostol into the United States kind of regardless of what's happening with the legality of abortion in your state.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We should mention those same Republican attorneys general have also written to other pharmacies, to CVS, Albertsons, Rite Aid, Costco, Walmart, and Kroger, demanding that they also refuse to dispense the medication.

    Do we know if they will?

  • Sarah Varney:

    I have not heard back from CVS yet. But Rite Aid did say that they would continue to monitor the latest federal and state and legal developments and that they will continue to evaluate whether or not the company is able to dispense mifepristone in those states.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And if they do act, if any other pharmacies also decide to take similar action, what does that say to you about the access for these abortion pills?

  • Sarah Varney:

    Well, these attorneys generals, I mean, particularly somebody like Steve Marshall from Alabama, these are — these are very aggressively anti-abortion attorneys generals.

    In Alabama, for instance, they made the suggestion that, if they couldn't prosecute women who had abortions for homicide, that they might use the state's chemical endangerment law to bring — to bring charges against women. So, these attorneys generals are getting very creative in how they are trying to figure out how to stop access to abortion, both in clinics, how to stop the flow of pills into their state.

    And they haven't gone so far as to say we need to be searching the mail, which is, of course, run by the federal government. But they do say in their letter to these pharmacies that, under a different type of Department of Justice, that the DOJ would have a different reading of what's called the Comstock Act, which was a law from the 1800s that's an anti-obscenity law that prevents the mailing of abortion drugs through the mail.

    The Biden administration says that's no longer applicable, because, in these states where abortion is legal, that law doesn't apply. But in their letter, the attorneys general say that, under a different type of Department of Justice, there would be a different reading of that application.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sarah, in the 30 seconds or so we have left, I know you have been reporting on this potential federal judge ruling in Texas as well that could further limit abortion pill access there.

    When you talk to advocates for abortion rights, what are they telling you about this moment?

  • Sarah Varney:

    They're very, very concerned.

    I mean, this judge in Amarillo, Texas, he has — he's a devout Christian. He is a devout anti-abortion activist. And I think they're very concerned that, if he were to rule in favor of this Christian legal organization, that mifepristone would disappear off the market in every state in the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sarah Varney, senior health correspondent for Kaiser Health News, joining us tonight.

    Sarah, good to see you.

  • Sarah Varney:

    Thanks, Amna.

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