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  • Edrina Laude

Abortion Rights: Drug Stores Face Backlash over the Sale of Abortion Pills


Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

On March 2, 2023, Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the US, stated that they would no longer sell abortion pills, such as mifepristone and misoprostol, in certain states after attorneys general from 20 states issued threats of legal action to any establishment seeking to do so. However, the backlash has ensued in four of these states – Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, and Montana – since the sale of abortion pills is still legal in these areas.


Although Walgreens has never dispensed abortion pills, many drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens have been working to administer these pills after the FDA lifted a ban on the sale of abortion pills in January. CVS and Walgreens both assured their consumers that they would only be open to distributing abortion pills in states where it was legally allowed to do so. However, in February, a letter spearheaded by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey was sent to drug store chains such as CVS and Walgreens, detailing how certain state and federal laws, such as the Comstock Act, ban the shipment of any object designed to start an abortion.


Though the Justice Department stated that laws such as the Comstock Act do not ban abortion pill shipments if the sender believes that the receiver will use them legally, drugstore chains like Walgreens are attempting to avoid legal action from the attorneys general of these 20 states by not distributing these pills in these states altogether, even if federal and state laws allow them to.


In response to these effective threats and concessions, many people have mixed views. California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that California would not be doing business with any company that would concede to extreme abortion restrictions, and many celebrities have called for Walgreens boycotts. However, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul stated he was “sympathetic to the bind the home-state company is in” and understood the company could be in legal trouble if future administrations were not in favor of abortion pills being sold.


Though people may not be able to buy abortion pills in states where abortion pills are legal, these pills can still be accessed by clinicians registered with the government or through telehealth medicine and pharmacies. But, unlike over-the-counter access to abortion pills, which allows more flexibility and convenience in the ability to get an abortion, patients will be required to have meetings with a clinician to receive abortion pills, which takes this flexibility and convenience away. Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a member and fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told NPR, “Many people have difficulty accessing this care because of things like transportation or having time off of work to go to a clinic to get this care.”


However, many on the right are concerned about how abortion pills may impact people after they are taken. An abortion pill can be a longer and more painful process than an abortion procedure, meaning that more care and observation may be needed. By not requiring a clinician to be present, people may be at risk of health complications, especially if they do not have access to emergency care. But, Dr. Brandi stated to NPR that it is important to note that there is “...no data that suggests that people are going in waves to seek emergency care” and “patients will still be evaluated by [an] experienced clinician… [and] go through counseling.”


While there are many valuable benefits and concerns that come with the use of abortion pills, threats of legal action further demonstrate how abortion rights in the U.S. are severely at risk. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the passage of heartbeat bans, and now restricted access to abortion pills, many people are now traveling to states where abortions are legal. However, this option may not be accessible for people who do not have the ability or resources to travel out of state, resulting in many people choosing to either stay pregnant or try to receive illegal abortions at the cost of their physical and mental health. No matter how the federal government deals with the issue of abortion rights, it is essential to make sure that the safety and well-being of people in the U.S. is the primary concern when making abortion legislation rather than risking peoples’ lives in hopes of fulfilling one’s moral opinions.


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