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CVS, Walgreens Plan to Dispense Abortion Pill in States Where It’s Legal

A box containing a mifepristone tablet is pictured in a Feb. 28, 2023, photo. CVS and Walgreens will begin selling the abortion pill at some stores in March. (Photo: OSV News/Callaghan O’Hare, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Officials at Walgreens and CVS announced March 1 that they are getting ready to sell the abortion pill mifepristone in early March in states where it is legally allowed.

CVS and Walgreens told the New York Times that they had received certification to dispense the pills under guidelines the Food and Drug Administration issued last year. The two drugstore chains plan to make the medication available in a small number of stores initially before expanding to a larger market.

CVS said in a statement that it plans to start filling prescriptions for the medication initially in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and would expand to additional states on a rolling basis.

Walgreens plans to start providing the medication at some of its pharmacies in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois before adding other locations.

In the states where these drugstore chains will begin dispensing mifepristone, the abortion pills are currently available in clinics or can be prescribed through telemedicine and sent through the mail.

This action by two of the country’s largest pharmacy networks aims to expand the availability of the drug, which is currently the subject of litigation, heading toward the Supreme Court in late March, to determine if the Food and Drug Administration properly approved the drug.

The Biden administration and the manufacturer of mifepristone are appealing a ruling from a federal appeals court that had significantly blocked access to this drug: banning the pills from being sent through the mail and shortening the window it can be used to terminate pregnancies from the current 10 weeks’ gestation to seven weeks.

An emergency ruling by the Supreme Court last year has kept access to the abortion pill unchanged.

Last April, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas sided with abortion opponents challenging the FDA’s initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 as a safe and effective medication and suspended its FDA approval. In response, the Justice Department filed an emergency appeal to the 5th Circuit.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said the drug’s initial approval should not be revoked, but they agreed with the Texas judge that the challengers were likely to win on other claims, such as the drug’s availability by mail and a provision that allowed the pills to be prescribed to women at up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court, in a brief order, put the lower court rulings on hold pending appeals, and leaving access to the abortion pill in place for now. It turned down the appeal regarding mifepristone’s safety and effectiveness.

The lawsuit against the abortion pill was filed in 2022 by the group Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine on behalf of itself and member groups such as the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and other pro-life groups, represented by the religious liberty law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom.

They claimed the FDA “ignored the potential impacts of the hormone-blocking regimen on the developing bodies of adolescent girls” and disregarded evidence that chemical abortions cause more complications, particularly bleeding, than surgical abortions.

Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, is the first of a two-drug regimen used to end a pregnancy in its early stages.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been vocal in their opposition to the drug since it was first given FDA approval. They echoed objections in 2016 when the FDA relaxed rules for its use, saying it could be administered with fewer visits to a doctor, and they also objected earlier this year when the FDA announced it would allow some retail pharmacies to distribute the drug.