Access to abortion medication has emerged as a major battleground in the legal struggle over the procedure in the US.
Calls were growing across Twitter on Friday to boycott Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States, after it said it will not dispense abortion pills in the states of 20 Republican attorneys general who had told the company that it risked breaking the law should it dispense the tablets in their states by mail.
The company announced the decision on Thursday after the US Food and Drug Administration allowed retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone pills, including by mail, provided they are certified under safety rules for the drug.
A Walgreens spokesperson said the pharmacy chain made its decision in response to a letter from the attorneys general. The spokesperson said Walgreens intended to become a certified pharmacy and would only dispense mifepristone in jurisdictions where it was legal to do so.
CVS, another pharmacy chain that also received the letter, did not immediately respond to the Reuters news agency’s request for comment. The Politico news website first reported Walgreens’s position on Thursday.
Medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of US abortions, has drawn increasing attention since the Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to the procedure in June, allowing conservative states to ban or restrict it.
Mifepristone, used in combination with another drug, misoprostol, is approved for abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion is a major issue in US politics. Liberals argue that bans on the procedure violate medical privacy and women’s rights by coercing them to carry children. Conservatives say restrictions on abortions aim to save fetuses and preserve human life.
Access to abortion pills has become a new battleground in the legal struggle over the procedure in the US. Biden promised earlier this year to protect access to the medication, including via telehealth.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard: Women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference,” the US president said in a statement in January.
But Republican-led states have been challenging efforts to make the pill accessible for patients in their states.
“These state laws reflect not only our commitment to protecting the lives and dignity of children, but also of women,” the Republican attorneys general wrote in their letter (PDF) to Walgreens in February.
A pending federal lawsuit in Texas is also challenging accessibility of the medication.
In South Carolina, a woman was arrested and charged this week for ending her pregnancy by taking medication in 2021, The State newspaper reported. The state’s law bans self-managed abortions. It is not clear why it took so long for prosecutors to file charges against the woman.
Walgreens’s decision on Thursday sparked outrage and calls for boycott from many Democrats, but it was welcomed by conservatives.
“Women across the nation will be denied their right to access healthcare they are legally entitled to because of this awful corporate decision. [Walgreens] must rethink this policy,” Democratic Illinois Governor JB Pritzker wrote on Twitter.
“To all the other pharmacy providers, we’ll stand with you so you can provide this lifesaving care.”