Breaking: CVS, Walgreens to Begin Mifepristone Dispensing This Month

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The decision comes a year after a group of conservative attorneys generals threatened the chains with legal action.

In a win for abortion advocates, CVS and Walgreens will begin dispensing mifepristone this month, according to a report published in the New York Times.1

Officials from both companies—2 of the largest retail pharmacy chains in the country—said in interviews that the certification allowing mifepristone dispensing had been completed according to FDA guidelines. The medication will first be available in “a handful of states” to start and will not be provided by mail. According to representatives from both CVS and Walgreens, expansion will continue to roll out to other states where abortion remains legal.

Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman added that the company would “not…dispense in states where the laws are unclear” in order to protect both pharmacists and store staff.

Walgreens and CVS will begin distributing mifepristone in certain stores this month. | image credit: Carl - stock.adobe.com

Walgreens and CVS will begin distributing mifepristone in certain stores this month. | image credit: Carl - stock.adobe.com

Shortly after the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, reports began emerging from women across the country who suddenly found themselves unable to access medications for conditions not related to pregnancy—such as methotrexate, frequently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis—due to their potential use to end pregnancy.2 With abortion bans in effect and unclear guidance around professional protections, some physicians and pharmacists chose to abstain from prescribing and dispensing these drugs.

READ MORE: In a Post-Dobbs World, Pharmacists Still Face Uncertainty

Pro-life organizations also thrust mifepristone into the national spotlight: In November 2022, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine—a coalition of anti-abortion medical associations that includes the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and others, formed in 2022—filed a lawsuit in Amarillo, Texas, against the FDA. The lawsuit questioned the agency’s approval of mifepristone in 2000, alleging that the FDA lacked the authority for the approval, that the studies used to demonstrate the drug’s safety were insufficient, and that the approval of mifepristone violates a 150-year-old anti-obscenity law.3-5

Key Takeaways

  • CVS and Walgreens, the 2 largest pharmacy chains in country, will begin distributing mifepristone this month.
  • The rollout will focus on states where abortion is legal, and avoid those with unclear or restrictive abortion laws.
  • The decision comes among an ongoing legal and political battle in the United States around abortion access.

After traveling through courts in the Northern District of Texas and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court announced on December 13, 2023, that it would hear the case—and decide whether to restrict access to mifepristone—in 2024.6

The decision by CVS and Walgreens follows a widely publicized conflict with a group of conservative state attorneys general. In letters sent to each company, the group of nearly 2 dozen threatened legal action if they proceeded with certification and began distributing mifepristone. However, several of the attorneys general who signed the letter are from states where abortion remained legal.7,8 Walgreens’ subsequent confirmation that it would not dispense abortion pills—a decision in direct conflict with Department of Justice guidance that mailing abortion pills is not illegal9—led to widespread pushback.10 

Certification for the pharmacies has been granted by mifepristone manufacturers: Walgreens was certified by Danco Laboratories, the maker of brand-name mifepristone (Mifeprex), while CVS was certified by generic manufacturer GenBioPro. Both chains had to follow specific steps to obtain certification, such as ensuring that computer systems protect prescriber privacy.

Mifepristone will be available at some Walgreens stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois beginning next week, and all CVS pharmacies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island will begin dispensing the drug in the weeks ahead.

References
  1. Belluck P. CVS and Walgreens will begin selling abortion pills this month. New York Times. March 1, 2024. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/01/health/abortion-pills-cvs-walgreens.html
  2. Shepherd K, Sellers FS. Abortion bands complicate access to drugs for cancer, arthritis, even ulcers. Washington Post. August 8, 2022. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/08/08/abortion-bans-methotrexate-mifepristone-rheumatoid-arthritis/
  3. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v US Food and Drug Administration, No. 23-10362 (5th Cir. 2023)
  4. Hammonds C. 10 things to know about Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA. Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. Updated April 25, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.progressivecaucuscenter.org/alliance-for-hippocratic-medicine-v-fda
  5. Talukder S. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v FDA: Legal Standing and the Impact on Abortion Access. Center for American Progress. May 19, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/alliance-for-hippocratic-medicine-v-fda-legal-standing-and-the-impact-on-abortion-access/
  6. Marimow AE. US Supreme Court to decide whether to restrict abortion drug next year. The Texas Tribune. December 13, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/13/texas-abortion-mifepristone-lawsuit/
  7. Ollstein AM. Walgreens won’t distribute abortion pills in states where GOP AGs object. Politico. March 2, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.politico.com/news/2023/03/02/walgreens-abortion-pills-00085325
  8. Sneed T. Republican AGs warn pharmacies against mailing abortion pills within their states. CNN. February 1, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/01/politics/cvs-walgreens-medication-abortion-republicans/index.html
  9. US Department of Justice. Application of the Comstock Act to the mailing of prescription drugs that can be used for abortions. December 23, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.justice.gov/olc/opinion/file/1560596/download
  10. Belluck P, Creswell J. Walgreens faces blowback for not offering abortion pill in 21 states. New York Times. March 7, 2023. Accessed March 1, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/07/business/walgreens-abortion-pill.html
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