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CVS and Walgreens find themselves at the center of the abortion debate

FILE – This June 25, 2019, file photo shows a sign outside a Walgreens Pharmacy in Pittsburgh. Two of the largest U.S pharmacy chains have agreed in principle to pay about $10 billion combined to settle lawsuits over the toll of powerful prescription opioids, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. In addition to the deals with CVS Health and Walgreens, a lawyer for local governments says settlement conversations are continuing with Walmart. (G3 Box News Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) Gene J. Puskar/G3 Box News

CVS and Walgreens find themselves at the center of the abortion debate

Abigail Adcox

January 21, 04:00 AM January 21, 04:01 AM

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The country’s largest pharmaceutical chains have found themselves at the center of the national debate over abortion rights, as anti-abortion advocates zero in on abortion medication in the fallout from the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision.

Anti-abortion groups are calling on people to protest and boycott their local CVS or Walgreens locations in response to the companies’ plans to seek approval to dispense mifepristone, which is used with misoprostol to induce an abortion. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way to allow certified retail pharmacies to dispense abortion medication to women who have a prescription from a qualified health provider.

MIXED MESSAGE: REPUBLICANS HUNT FOR ABORTION PLAYBOOK AS DEMOCRATS GO ON OFFENSE

Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising is organizing picketing outside of CVS and Walgreens locations in over a dozen cities, including Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Akron, on Feb. 4 in hopes of reversing the companies’ plans to carry abortion medication, a method that accounted for roughly half of all abortions in the U.S. in 2021.

Faith-based 40 Days for Life has also announced plans to hold vigils and demonstrations at CVS and Walgreens locations across the country beginning Feb. 22, including areas where abortion providers might have closed their doors due to restrictive state laws.

“We are a lot of times at abortion facilities, they can be tucked away from a main road, they can be kind of anonymous in a neighborhood. Walgreens and CVS are not, they are in prime real estate locations and that will be great for us,” said Shawn Carney, co-founder, CEO, and president of 40 Days for Life.

Abortion rights groups say the FDA’s announcement could make the medications more widely available in states where abortion is legal. Anti-abortion advocates and Republican lawmakers contend that the changes are at the cost of women’s safety without a physician physically present. A group of House Republicans introduced a bill earlier this week that would nullify the FDA’s recent changes, requiring that abortion medication be dispensed in person at health providers.

A spokesperson for Walgreens declined to comment on the protests. CVS did not respond to requests for comment.

Hugh Chancy, president of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said the response to the FDA’s decision is “mixed,” with many community pharmacists still reviewing whether they want to dispense abortion medication, though state laws concerning abortion, the certification process, and potential protesting would likely be factored into their decision.

“The pharmacists want to take care of patients, we don’t want to be caught in the crossfire between differing political views,” said Chancy.

The protests are representative of the battle over abortion rights playing out on the national stage nearly seven months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion advocates have sought to restrict access to the procedure through state laws and a series of lawsuits. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has used limited federal avenues to safeguard and expand access, such as the FDA’s regulatory change.

“The Biden-Harris Administration continues to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with women and families who face this frightening new reality in states across the nation. This anniversary reminds us of what America’s women lost as a result of the Dobbs decision, and of the importance of HHS’s work to protect and expand women’s access to reproductive healthcare,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on Sunday. “Our work won’t stop until all women have access to this critical care.”

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The legal landscape governing abortion has continued to evolve following the recent regulatory changes and state laws. A federal lawsuit in Texas by anti-abortion groups is seeking to reverse the FDA’s decades-old approval of mifepristone, which the HHS said would “upend the status quo.”

“It’s a really dynamic field and we’ve only seen, I think, the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come and I think a lot of that conversation is going to focus on the regulation of abortion pills,” said Rachel Rebouche, dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law.

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