Newsom: State `done' with Walgreens over limiting abortion drug
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California will stop doing business with Walgreens after the giant pharmacy chain said it won't dispense abortion pills in 20 states where authorities recently threatened legal action for doing so.
“California won't be doing business with Walgreens — or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women's lives at risk,” Newsom said Monday on Twitter as abortion foes rallied in their third annual March for Life at the state capital. “We're done.”
What the governor's remark might mean for Californians who rely on the Illinois-based national pharmacy chain was unclear. Newsom's office could not answer whether residents who receive health care through state programs such as Medi-cal or Covered California would be forced to go to other pharmacies to use their benefits.
“California is reviewing all relationships between Walgreens and the state,” said Brandon Richards, deputy communications director for Newsom. “We will not pursue business with companies that cave to right wing bullies pushing their extremist agenda or companies that put politics above the health of women and girls.”
James Scullary, spokesperson for Covered California, which administers the Affordable Care Act plans in the state, said that “we are engaged with the governor's office and working to determine the potential implications of this announcement.”
Jonathan Keller, president
of California Family Council, one of the groups that was marching in Sacramento on Monday, said the governor's move would only hurt California residents.
“It's really stunning that the governor of California would demand that corporations break the law in other states as a cost of doing business in California,” Keller said. “It's a very ominous threat. Is he threatening to withhold that choice from medical patients to fulfill their prescriptions? State employees can't use Walgreens as their pharmacy of choice? He's actually penalizing California residents.”
At issue is a drug called mifepristone used to induce early term abortions. The Food and Drug Administration first approved its use in 2000 through seven
weeks of gestation, and that was extended in 2016 to 10 weeks. The agency says the drug is “safe when used as indicated” and was approved after “a thorough and comprehensive review of the scientific evidence.” The FDA said that there have been 28 reports of deaths in patients associated with mifepristone since it was approved.
Such “medication abortions” outpaced surgical procedures for the first time in 2020 and now account for more than half of all U.S. abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
The FDA for much of the past two decades has restricted access to the pills outside of medical offices out of safety concerns but began easing those rules
during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion rights advocates have looked to abortion pills as a means of maintaining easy access to the procedure.
In early January, the FDA further expanded rules to allow retail pharmacies to dispense the pills after completing a certification process, which would allow them to become available not only at the pharmacies but online by mail.
Walgreens and CVS started the certification process. But on Feb. 1, attorneys general in 20 states signed letters to both pharmacies threatening them with legal action if they distribute abortion pills
by mail, telling them it is “both unsafe and illegal.”
Walgreens last week said in response that it wouldn't dispense the pills in those states — Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Mifepristone is legal in some of those states.
In response to Newsom's comment, Walgreens said the company is bound to abide by the laws in different states. It did not give a reason why it included states where the drug is legal.
“From the outset, we have made our intentions clear to become a certified pharmacy to distribute Mifepristone wherever legally possible to do so,” Walgreens said in a statement Monday.
CVS has not indicated any change of plans but did not respond to questions Monday after Newsom's statement. Rite Aid did not respond to questions about it either.
Abortion rights are popular in California, and Newsom has aggressively promoted them, pushing a ballot measure last
year, Proposition 1, that amended the constitution to prohibit the state from interfering with a person's right to an abortion. It passed with two-thirds support.
Jennifer Wonnacott, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, applauded Newsom for calling out Walgreens.
“Like others, we were disappointed to learn of Walgreens' response to demands made by anti-abortion Republican attorneys general saying that the company will not provide medication abortion in 20 states, including some where it is still legal,” Wonnacott said. “Planned Parenthood thanks Governor Newsom for continuing to stand strong in his support of abortion access and push back against the anti-abortion movement that will not stop until they ban and criminalize abortion nationwide.”
Susan Swift, vice president of legal affairs at Right to Life League, said making abortion pills available outside of doctors' offices will put mothers at more risk.
“This is total disregard for the woman's health,” Swift said.