For the past couple of weeks, I’ve put out a lot of calls to pharmacies, trying to learn how many chains plan to stock abortion pills. A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration gave pharmacies the go-ahead to dispense the abortion medication mifepristone if they opt into a new certification process.
In theory, allowing pharmacies to distribute these pills could expand access to medication abortion at a time when clinics are strapped and the pills are in high demand. But since the news broke, only three major chains — Walgreen, CVS and Rite Aid — have said publicly that they planned to apply for certification, and only at select locations states where abortion is currently legal, suggesting the rule change may have limited impact.
I wanted to see whether other pharmacy chains, like those run out of grocery stores, were planning on applying. I put out over a dozen requests and heard back from precisely no one.
In reporting out why, experts told me that many pharmacies might be reluctant to enter such a complicated legal landscape, where such pills are explicitly outlawed in many states. States have never tried to outright ban an FDA-approved drug before, setting the stage for lengthy legal battles over whether federal law should trump state law when it comes to abortion pills. Many pharmacies may just be waiting for that legal dust to settle, which could take months or years.
Pharmacies may also be staying mum to avoid attracting controversy. Abortion opponents are already planning to picket outside of CVS and Walgreens stores in protest of their decisions, while abortion rights advocates are gearing up efforts to cement and expand access at the state level, as my colleague Sophie Tatum reported this week.
I’ll be keeping tabs on this in the coming months to see if more pharmacies announce plans. In the words of one of my sources for this story, whatever happens on this particular front, it’s clear that “the fight around abortion in this country will revolve around abortion pills.”
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