Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with five other U.S. senators, sent a letter to Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer on Tuesday, demanding clarification and expressing “grave concern” about the company’s recently announced abortion pill distribution plan.
The letter (pdf) followed recent news that Walgreens, the second-largest pharmacy chain in the United States, made the decision not to dispense the pills—either by mail or at its brick-and-mortar locations—in any of the 20-plus states where “extremist, right-wing” Republican attorneys general threatened the company with legal action if the pills were mailed in their states, the letter said.
In some of those Republican-led states, medical abortion remains legal, the letter explained.
“We were extraordinarily concerned by reports last week indicating that your company appeared to be pandering to this extremism. … The law is clear that medication abortion is legal in Kansas, Iowa, Montana, and Alaska—all states where it appeared that Walgreens, in response to saber-rattling from anti-abortion extremists—would not be providing it,” the letter said.
“The refusal to dispense a medication that is legal and safe to patients in need would be a betrayal of your customers, and your commitment to ‘champion the health and well-being of every community in America.'”
The letter, signed by Warren and five other Democratic senators—Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.)—listed seven demands for clarification to be answered by March 14.
These demands included information about whether Walgreens was going to complete the certification process under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispense the abortion pill and, if so, where the company will dispense it.
The senators also demanded to know when the company made its recent policy regarding the drug’s distribution, who it consulted with to make the policy, who gave approval for the policy, and what the policy will look like moving forward.
On March 6, Walgreens, in a response to the Feb. 1 letter signed by the 20 Republican attorneys general, released a statement clarifying its position regarding seeking FDA certification and distributing the abortion pill (or mifepristone).
“We want to be very clear about what our position has always been: Walgreens plans to dispense Mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so. Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws,” the company wrote.
But that clarification wasn’t good enough for many Democratic-led states. Instead, it incited criticism and backlash, ranging from calls pressuring Walgreens to rescind its recent decision to an all-out boycott of the pharmacy chain.
On March 3, Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker met with and urged the senior team at the company, which is headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, to rethink its policy.
The meeting came a day after the governor called Walgreens an “awful corporation” for denying “women across the nation … the right to access healthcare they are legally entitled to.”
Pritzker recounted details of his conversation with the pharmacy giant on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on March 5.
“On a broader scale, we should just recognize that these pharmacies need to protect women’s health. That is the business that they should be in,” he said. “And so in states where it’s legal to have an abortion and legal to sell an abortion pill, they should still be doing it, and I’ve told them that.”
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newson, in a Twitter post on Monday, said, “California won’t be doing business with @walgreens—or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk. We’re done.”
Walgreens is currently in the process of seeking certification under the FDA and has not yet dispensed the abortion pill in any of its locations or through the mail, the company emphasized in its Feb. 6 response letter to the Republican attorneys general.
“What we’re talking about hasn’t even happened,” Alina Salganicoff, a senior vice president and the director of Women’s Health Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told Yahoo Finance. “This is more about how will this affect access in the future.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute (GI), the independent research arm of Planned Parenthood, in 2022 the abortion pill accounted for 54 percent of all U.S. abortions.
The FDA first approved mifepristone in 2000 for medical abortion through seven weeks of pregnancy. In 2016, that timeframe was extended to 10 weeks, but GI states that in some cases, the drug can be used “safely off label” for pregnancies after 10 weeks.
Mifepristone is a drug that blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to continue. It is followed by a second drug, misoprostol, between 24 and 48 hours later, causing the uterus to contract and expel the fetus. Together, the drugs make up what is known as “the abortion pill.”