No mifepristone sales: Walgreens caved to Republican pressure?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Marcelle Hutchins

A Walgreens drugstore sign is seen in Hollywood, CA. Walgreens’ move to preemptively ban the sales of mifepristone in many areas is a response to Republican lawmakers who threatened legal action against the company, says Politico reporter Alice Miranda Ollstein. Photo by Shutterstock.

Governor Gavin Newsom has announced California will not renew a $54 million contract with Walgreens. The decision comes after the drugstore chain announced this week that it would not dispense the abortion drug mifepristone in at least 20 states. Many pharmacies are scrambling to comply with new state laws that are banning or severely restricting abortion access.

No pharmacy in the U.S. is currently dispensing mifepristone, according to Politico health care reporter Alice Miranda Ollstein. But Walgreens’ move to preemptively ban the sales in many areas is a response to Republican lawmakers who wrote to the company, threatening legal action. 

“Walgreens responded to those state attorneys general saying, ‘Don't worry, we don't plan to dispense in your states,’” Ollstein explains. “Newsom and other progressive officials around the country, including the California Attorney General Rob Bonta, are upset with Walgreens. They feel that the company preemptively caved to political pressure from the state attorneys general, and said that they should wait until a court definitively tells them they can't dispense the pills before making such an announcement.” 

Ollstein points out that other major chain pharmacies have stayed quiet in the face of similar threats from Republican attorneys general. Now the question lies in who Newsom could award a contract to in the future. He could possibly cut ties with other chains as his legal team explores the overall picture, Ollstein says. 

The legality of abortion and access to pills like mifepristone is still in flux nationwide. Ollstein says in some states, only a physician can give out the pill, and it cannot be sent by mail or picked up at a pharmacy.  

“Those laws are in flux. … They're proposed in some places, they're enacted but blocked in court. And so what Walgreens is saying is ‘look, the certification process is going to take months already. Let's see when that process is over — where all these state laws stand. And wherever we can dispense the pills, we will.’ That is what the company is saying to defend itself.” 

Meanwhile, in a federal court case, groups in Texas are challenging the FDA’s original approval of mifepristone from more than 20 years ago.

“Legal experts say [the Texas groups’] arguments are pretty far-fetched. But this is before a judge who was appointed by President Trump, who has a known record of anti-abortion views. And so it's really anyone's guess.” 

She adds, “What this court in Texas rules could be appealed up to the Fifth Circuit, which is pretty conservative-leaning and could eventually be appealed up to the Supreme Court, which of course, overturned Roe v. Wade last year. So it's just absolutely unclear what the future is. That Texas ruling could come really at any time. We expected it to come already. So we're on high alert.”