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CVS and Walgreens will start selling abortion pills this month


The two largest pharmacy chains in the United States will begin distributing the abortion pill mifepristone this month, a move that could make it easier for some patients to access.

Officials from CVS and Walgreens said in interviews Friday that they had received certification to distribute mifepristone under guidelines issued last year by the Food and Drug Administration. The chains initially plan to make the drug available in stores in a handful of states. They will not provide medications by mail.

Both chains said they would gradually expand to all other states where abortion was legal and pharmacies were legally allowed to dispense abortion pills — about half the states.

President Biden said in a statement Friday that the availability of the pill in pharmacies was “an important step in ensuring access to mifepristone, a drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for over 20 years old.”

“I encourage all pharmacies who wish to pursue this option to seek certification,” he added.

Walgreens will begin providing the pill next week at a small number of its pharmacies in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Illinois, said Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for the chain. “We are beginning a phased rollout in select locations to enable us to ensure quality, safety and privacy for our patients, providers and team members,” he said.

CVS will begin dispensing medications to all of its pharmacies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island “in the coming weeks,” said Amy Thibault, a company spokeswoman.

The channels will monitor the outlook in a few states, including Kansas, Montana and Wyoming, where bans or strict limitations on abortion have been enacted but are being imposed due to legal challenges.

Mr. Engerman said Walgreens “is not going to distribute drugs in states where the laws are unclear” to protect its pharmacists and staff members.

As for CVS, “we are continually monitoring and evaluating changes in state laws and will distribute mifepristone in any state where it is or becomes legally permitted to do so,” Ms. Thibault said. In some states where abortion is legal, she explained, pharmacists are prohibited from dispensing mifepristone because the law requires it to be performed by doctors or in a hospital or clinic.

It is unclear what the initial demand for this service will be in brick-and-mortar pharmacies. In states where the chains will begin distributing, abortion pills are already available in clinics or easily prescribed via telemedicine and sent by mail. But some women prefer to consult doctors, many of whom do not have the medications on hand. The new development will allow doctors and other eligible providers to send a prescription to a pharmacy for the patient to pick up.

“Now that doctors no longer need to store and dispense medications themselves, it increases the likelihood that a patient will be able to go to their own doctor, the person they already have a relationship with, and tell her: ‘I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant.’ I don’t want to be,” said Kirsten Moore, director of the Expanding Access to Medication Abortion Project.

She said it could also motivate more doctors and other health care providers to obtain the special certification required by the FDA for mifepristone prescribers. The steps to becoming a certified prescriber are simple, but some doctors have been deterred by the paperwork and logistics of ordering and storing pills.

As availability at retail pharmacies increases, these could become a more popular alternative and, depending on the outcome of a case the Supreme Court hears later this month, the pharmacy option could take on more importance.

In this case, abortion opponents sued the FDA, seeking to remove mifepristone from the market in the United States. An appeals court ruling in that case didn’t go that far but effectively banned sending mifepristone through the mail and required in-person medical visits. If the Supreme Court upholds this decision, it could mean that patients would have to obtain mifepristone by going to a clinic or doctor. If such a decision allowed pharmacies to continue dispensing their medications, more patients would be able to obtain their medications there.

Opponents of abortion criticized the pharmacy chains’ decision. “As two of the world’s largest and most trusted ‘health’ brands, CVS and Walgreens’ decision to sell dangerous abortion medications is shameful, and the harm to unborn babies and their mothers is incalculable “, Katie Daniel, Susan State Policy Director. B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in a statement.

In order to obtain certification, pharmacy chains had to take specific steps, including ensuring that their computerized systems protect the privacy of prescribers, who are certified under a special program that the FDA applies to the mifepristone and several dozen other medications.

Pharmaceutical certification is granted by the manufacturers of mifepristone. Walgreens has been certified by brand manufacturer Danco Laboratories and is seeking certification from generic manufacturer GenBioPro, Mr. Engerman said. CVS has been certified by GenBioPro.

Medical abortion is a two-drug regimen that is now the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the United States and is typically used up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed for the pregnancy to develop, is taken first, followed 24 to 48 hours later by misoprostol, which causes contractions that push out pregnancy tissue.

The same regimen is also used for miscarriages, and these patients can now also obtain mifepristone from pharmacy chains.

Mifepristone has been closely regulated by the FDA since its approval in 2000. It was previously available primarily from prescribers or through clinics or telemedicine abortion services, in which pills were typically shipped from one of two pharmacies in mail order sales authorized. Misoprostol has never been as strictly regulated as mifepristone and is used for many different medical conditions. It is easily obtained at pharmacies through a typical prescription process.

The American Pharmacists Association has urged the FDA to allow retail pharmacies to distribute mifepristone, even though the drug is unlikely to generate significant revenue. In a statement last year, the association said it wanted the agency to “level the playing field by allowing any pharmacy that chooses to distribute this product to be certified.”

Shortly after the FDA policy change was announced in January 2023, Walgreens and CVS announced plans to become certified and offer mifepristone in states where laws would allow pharmacies to dispense it.

Walgreens then became the center of a political and consumer firestorm after responding to threatening letters from Republican attorneys general in 21 states, confirming that it would not distribute the drug in those states.

Both chains held protests outside their stores, mostly by abortion advocates, and similar protesters interrupted a shareholder meeting of Walgreens Boots Alliance, the chain’s parent company.

CVS is the nation’s largest chain, with more than 9,000 stores in all 50 states. Walgreens has about 8,500 stores in every state except North Dakota. Neither chain would discuss the price of the drug, but both noted that some insurance policies will cover it in some states.

A handful of small, independent pharmacies began dispensing mifepristone last year.


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