Senate Democrats are urging the largest retail pharmacies in the U.S. to ensure access to the abortion pill mifepristone amid ongoing confusion over legal access to the pill.
On Monday, 18 Democrats sent letters to seven of the biggest pharmacy chains in the country requesting more information about their plans to provide customers access to mifepristone — currently an open question for some chains as pressure from anti-abortion lawmakers and lawsuits target the legality of medication abortion.
Earlier this month, Walgreens bowed to pressure from Republican attorneys general and said it wouldn’t dispense mifepristone in at least 20 states, sparking backlash from pro-abortion groups, including the state of California.
Other major retail pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite Aid and Walmart, have not said publicly how they plan to approach dispensing abortion pills in states where it’s currently legal, but where Republican officials have threatened legal action.
The letters from the Democratic senators, led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., attempt to clear confusion.
“We write with great frustration that [your company] has not indicated whether it plans to allow your customers to access mifepristone through your pharmacies,” the senators wrote to Walmart, Albertsons, Costco and Kroger —companies that haven’t said whether they intend to dispense mifepristone directly to customers. “We look forward to hearing back from you about your intentions to ensure access to this critical FDA-approved product.”
Meanwhile, in letters to CVS Health and Rite Aid, the senators cheered the pharmacies’ stated plans to be certified to dispense mifepristone where able, but asked them to communicate more detail around access to the pill.
“As you continue with the FDA certification process and fully comply with state and federal law, it is critical that your company also provide the strongest possible access to this vital medication and communicate clearly about this,” the senators wrote.
The senators also criticized Walgreens for its decision to not dispense mifepristone in certain states where it remains legal, and for creating confusion when it appeared to backtrack on that decision days later.
“At a time of great confusion about abortion access, your company has done the disservice of adding to it,” the senators wrote. “While we are well aware of threatening letters you received with regard to the distribution of mifepristone in certain states, the response to those pressures was unacceptable and appeared to yield to these threats — ignoring the critical need to ensure patients can get this essential health care wherever possible.”
Medication abortion typically consists a two-pill regimen of mifepristone and another pill called misoprostol. The pills, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for more than two decades, currently make up more than half of all abortions.
The Food and Drug Administration in early January allowed retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone directly to consumers for the first time.
After the Supreme Court last summer overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, more than a dozen states restricted or banned the use of abortion pills. Some antiabortion groups are seeking to get the pills banned nationwide.
A Texas judge is expected to rule any day now on a case looking to revoke the FDA’s decadesold approval of mifepristone — despite the lack of precedent for a court to overturn a government drug approval, and the miniscule chance of serious complications from the pill.
On Wednesday, District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk will hear oral arguments in the case, after delaying putting the hearing on the public docket due to concerns about protests and other disruptions. The delay, which could make it difficult for the public and media to travel to the courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, is a highly unusual step, according to The Washington Post.