Walgreens, CVS to start dispensing abortion pill mifepristone

The sales will be in states where the pill is legal to dispense.

CVS and Walgreens said they’ve received certification to dispense mifepristone, one of the two pills used for a medication abortion, paving the way for them to begin dispensing the drug as early as this month.

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The chains plan to make the medication available in stores in a handful of states at first, according to The New York Times. They will not be providing the medication by mail.

Both pharmacies said they would expand access to the drug to all other states where abortion was legal and where pharmacies were legally able to dispense abortion pills, the Times reported.

To obtain certification, the pharmacy chains had to take specific steps. The certification is granted by manufacturers of mifepristone, CBS News reported.

CVS officials told CNN that it’ll begin filling prescriptions for mifepristone in Massachusetts and Rhode Island “in the weeks ahead” and that it plans to expand to more states “where allowed by law, on a rolling basis.”

According to a statement from Walgreens, the pharmacy chain will dispense the drug “consistent with federal and state laws” in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Illinois, initially.

Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for the chain, said Walgreens was “not going to dispense in states where the laws are unclear,” to protect its pharmacists.

The medication will require a prescription.

The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone for abortions in 2000, saying it is a safe and effective way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It’s approved for use up to 10 weeks into pregnancy.

President Joe Biden praised the decision to offer the drug.

“The stakes could not be higher for women across America,” Biden said in a statement Friday.

Medication abortion is the most common method of abortion in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s absolutely a game-changer,” Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told CBS News on Friday. “This type of dispensing is going to be huge for patients who struggle to travel. We’re going to see much better health outcomes.”

The FDA in January 2023 issued an update to requirements over the dispensing of mifepristone. The new guidelines required the drug to be provided by “certified pharmacies on a prescription issued by a certified prescriber.”

Before then, the FDA required certified prescribers to dispense the drug directly to patients in a clinical setting.

“I think it’s a really sad day in America for the women of this country,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Friday. “I would encourage women to seek out a local pregnancy center and talk to them before taking this pill. There are other alternatives available.”

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court decision that would make mifepristone less accessible. The case grew out of conflicting rulings within minutes of each other last April.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas imposed a nationwide ban on mifepristone on April 7, 2023, ruling that the FDA had improperly approved the drug 23 years ago.

Minutes later, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice in Washington ruled that the current FDA rules must remain in place, and noted that the agency had approved a change in the dosing regimen in 2015 that allowed the drug to be used for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the earlier seven weeks.

That ruling was in a case brought by 17 states and the District of Columbia seeking to expand the use of mifepristone.

The Supreme Court put the lower court decisions on hold and allowed the abortion pill to continue on the market as it had been, awaiting a final decision by the court.

A decision on the case is expected by June or July.