Walgreens, CVS Pharmacies to Dispense Abortion Drugs After FDA Changes

Both CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens each have 9,000 retail locations across the U.S.

Walgreens and CVS are making the abortion pill available through their pharmacies.
Walgreens and CVS are making the abortion pill available through their pharmacies. (photo: Sundry / Shutterstock)

Abortion pills that can end a pregnancy through 10 weeks’ gestation will have far wider availability as CVS and Walgreens have announced they intend to fill prescriptions for the drug mifepristone, following federal rule changes on Tuesday.

The move drew criticism from pro-life activists. Lila Rose of LiveAction said on Twitter Jan. 4 it is “disgusting that pharmacists will now be dispensing lethal poison alongside antibiotics and allergy medication.”

Mifepristone is the first of the two pills used in a chemical abortion. The drug works by cutting off nutrients necessary for a fetus to continue developing. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken 24 to 48 hours later and induces contractions that expel the dead unborn child.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Jan. 3 announced that it will allow any patient with a prescription to obtain mifepristone from her local retail pharmacy if it is appropriately certified to dispense the drug.

Previous FDA policy only allowed certified doctors, clinics, and some mail-order pharmacies to dispense mifepristone.

Steven H. Aden, general counsel at Americans United for Life, was among the other critics of the decision. 

The Tuesday announcement, he said, is “yet another in a long train of actions the Biden administration has taken that put women at grave risk, in its headlong rush to push abortion drugs on the American public.”

“Despite the FDA’s longtime approval of chemical abortion as a restricted drug, with solemn warnings about its use and restrictions on its distribution because of the role it plays in causing dangerous hemorrhaging, infection, and missed ectopic pregnancies, this administration seems to stop at nothing to tear down the rules that had helped protect women from this drug.”

As of 2020, abortion pills now account for more than half of abortions in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Though the FDA authorizes the use of the drug only up to 10 weeks into pregnancy, many clinics and providers offer the drug up to 12 or 13 weeks, according to the New York Times.

Both CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens each have 9,000 retail locations across the U.S.

“We plan to seek certification to dispense mifepristone where legally permissible,” Amy Thibault, lead director for external communications at CVS Pharmacy, told CNA Jan. 5.

There is a question of whether pharmacy employees with religious or moral objections to abortion will be able to avoid taking part in prescribing the abortion drug.

“We have policies in place to ensure no patient is ever denied access to medication prescribed by a physician based on a pharmacist’s individual religious or moral beliefs,” Thibault said. 

“Under federal and state law we must reasonably accommodate a religious conviction, and for some states we must accommodate moral, ethical, or conscientious objections that may prevent a pharmacist from filling specific medications. In such instances, the pharmacist is required to notify us in advance about such a religious conviction, so that we can ensure there are other arrangements in place to ensure the patient’s medication needs are promptly satisfied.”

A Walgreens spokesperson said the company intends to have its pharmacies certified to dispense the drug but did not specifically address the question of employees with objections to abortion.

“We are working through the registration, necessary training of our pharmacists, as well as evaluating our pharmacy network in terms of where we normally dispense products that have extra FDA requirements and will dispense these consistent with federal and state laws,” the Walgreens spokesperson said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion group, called for political action to counter the regulatory changes.

“State lawmakers and Congress must stand as a bulwark against the Biden administration’s pro-abortion extremism,” Dannenfelser told the Wall Street Journal. “We hope to see the FDA do its job to protect the lives of women and put an end to chemical abortions.”

A December 2021 change permanently lifted the requirement for patients to obtain mifepristone during in-person appointments with a physician. This change allowed abortion pills to be prescribed via telemedicine and prescriptions to be filled by mail.

The Catholic Medical Association criticized the rule changes in a Jan. 3 statement.

“As health care professionals, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates we wish to speak strongly against these violations of women’s rights to informed consent and quality of care,” the group said. “Politics have no place in the care of women.”

The group characterized safety provisions as “minimal” given that they do not require the prescribing physician to be in the same state as the patient. It objected that no in-person physical assessment is required to document the weeks of gestation or the position of the fetus. The lack of in-person examination potentially aids those who would use the drug to conceal the rape of a minor.

“The FDA admits there is the potential for excessive bleeding and that there have been 28 deaths associated with the use of this drug,” the Catholic Medical Association statement continued. “No follow-up physical examination is required to assess for an incomplete abortion and the resulting risks of continued bleeding, retained products of conception necessitating surgical removal, or infections, which can lead to infertility and in extreme cases even death.”

While the mifepristone regimen explicitly aims to cause an abortion, other so-called “morning-after pills” such as Plan B and Ella have drawn objections over concern the contraceptives have abortifacient effects.