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Democrats press Walmart, Costco, Kroger on mifepristone

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In this photo illustration, packages of Mifepristone tablets are displayed at a family planning clinic on April 13, 2023 in Rockville, Maryland. 

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

House Democrats on Thursday called on Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Safeway and Health Mart to publicly commit to sell the prescription abortion pill mifepristone at their retail pharmacies.

Pending lawsuits have jeopardized mifepristone’s approval in the U.S. For now, it is the most common method to terminate a pregnancy in the country.

The five companies have been silent for months on whether they will get certified to sell mifepristone under a Food and Drug Administration program that monitors how the medication is distributed and used by patients.

“It is unconscionable that five of the largest retail pharmacies in the country are refusing to declare whether they will receive certification to provide basic, legal, FDA-approved medication abortion health care for Americans,” Rep. Dan Goldman, D-NY, said in a statement Thursday.

Goldman and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., sent a letter asking the companies’ CEOs to confirm by June 23 whether their pharmacies will get certified to sell the abortion pill.

More than 50 other Democratic lawmakers signed on to the letter.

“Your continued silence is unacceptable as it is misaligned with your publicly stated values in support of equal access to health care and of gender equality,” the lawmakers told the CEOs in the letter.

Democratic governors and senators asked the companies in March whether their pharmacies will get certified to dispense the medication. The companies still have not taken a public position on the issue.

The largest retail pharmacies in the U.S. have found themselves increasingly caught in the middle of the national battle over abortion access, which was set in motion by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June. More than a dozen states have banned abortion since the high court overturned the landmark 1973 decision that protected access to the procedure as a right under the U.S. Constitution.

As conservative states implemented abortion bans after the fall of Roe, the FDA sought in January to expand access to mifepristone by allowing retail pharmacies for the first time to dispense the medication if they get certified.

The agency also permanently allowed women to obtain the pill by mail.

CVS and Walgreens, the two largest pharmacy chains in the U.S., said shortly after the FDA decision that they would get certified to sell mifepristone where it is legal to dispense the medication.

The companies soon faced a backlash from Republican state attorneys general, who fear easier access to mifepristone particularly by mail will undermine their states’ restrictive abortion laws or outright bans. 

The GOP attorneys general warned the CEOs of CVS and Walgreens that they would take legal action if the companies sold the pill in their states. Walgreens confirmed to the attorneys general that the company would not sell mifepristone in their states.

Walgreens then got smacked by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The liberal governor refused to renew a state contract with Walgreens over its move.

Mifepristone’s status as a FDA-approved medication faces a deeply uncertain future, even in states where abortion remains legal.

A group of doctors who oppose abortion sued the FDA last November to pull mifepristone from the U.S. market entirely.

U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in the Northern District of Texas ruled in the antiabortion doctors favor in April and suspended the FDA approval. The Supreme Court intervened in the case and preserved access to mifepristone as the litigation plays out.

A panel of three judges at U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals now has the case and could issue a ruling at any time. The appeals court judges appeared skeptical of the Justice Department’s defense of mifepristone during oral arguments in May.

The case will likely end up before the Supreme Court again, particularly if the appeals court rules against mifepristone.

CNBC Health & Science

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