In this 2018 photo, mifepristone and misoprostol pills are dispensed at a Carafem drug abortion clinic in Skokie, Illinois.
Erin Hooley | Tribune News Service | Getty Images
Senate Democrats called walmart, Costco, Albertsons And Kroger to sell the prescription abortion pill mifepristone and clearly let customers know how to get it from their pharmacy.
The companies have not yet publicly disclosed whether they plan to sell mifepristone in their pharmacies. The Food and Drug Administration in January allowed retail drugstores to sell the abortion pill as long as they become certified under a federal program that monitors how the medication is dispensed.
The 17 senators told Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, Albertson’s CEO Vivek Sankaran and Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen that they are frustrated that the companies have not yet publicly stated whether they will sell mifepristone. In letters dated Monday, but released to the public on Tuesday, they asked the CEOs to respond before March 21 on whether they plan to get FDA-certified to dispense the medication.
“We urge you to have policies in place that provide the strongest possible access to the full range of essential health care they need, including mifepristone, and to communicate clearly with your customers on how to access this care” , the senators wrote to the CEOs. The group of lawmakers was led by Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
The abortion pill has become the central focus of the legal battle over access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June to overturn Roe v. Wade. Major US retailers have been thrust into the middle of the country’s deep division over abortion as they consider whether to sell mifepristone.
Twelve states have banned abortion and several others have stricter restrictions on mifepristone than federal regulations, creating a patchwork of legal landscapes in which those pro- and anti-abortion fight over whether FDA authority or state law reigns supreme.
Used in combination with another drug called misoprostol, mifepristone is the most common way to terminate a pregnancy in the US, accounting for about half of all abortions.
Walgreens under attack
Walgreens, CVS And Ritual aid said in January that they plan to get certified with the FDA to sell mifepristone in states where it is legal to do so. Republican attorneys general in 21 states warned the Walgreens and CVS in early February not to send mifepristone to their states.
Walgreens has come under fire after it told GOP attorneys general it would not sell mifepristone in their states. The drugstore’s response sparked controversy because the company also doesn’t sell the medication in states like Kansas, where abortion is protected by the state constitution. A state court in November blocked a law requiring patients to take mifepristone in the same room as a doctor.
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The senators accused Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer of giving in to pressure from the attorney general and accused the company of creating confusion by not selling mifepristone in some states where abortion remains legal.
“While we are well aware of the threatening letters you received regarding the distribution of mifepristone in certain states, the response to those pressures was unacceptable and appeared to yield to these threats – ignoring the critical need to ensure ensure that patients can receive this essential health care.” whenever possible,” the senators wrote.
The senators also asked Karen Lynch, CEO of CVS Health, and Elizabeth Burr, CEO of Rite Aid, not to follow Walgreens, urging them to “fully review the laws in each state and make sure your policies provides the strongest possible legal access to this essential health care”.
California cancels contract
California Governor Gavin Newsom said last week that the state government would no longer do business with Walgreens because of its stance on mifepristone. The state canceled the renewal of the $54 million contract for specialty prescription drugs primarily used by the state prison system.
Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said the company was deeply disappointed by Newsom’s decision and has plans to sell mifepristone where it is legal, including California.
“Walgreens is facing the same circumstances as all retail pharmacies, and no other pharmacies have said they would handle this situation differently, so it’s unclear where this contract would now move,” said Engerman.