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Walgreens won't sell abortion pills in red states that threatened legal action

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
A Walgreens pharmacy is pictured on Jan. 5 in New York City. Walgreens says it won't sell mifepristone in states where Republican attorneys general threatened legal action.

Walgreens won't distribute abortion pills in states where Republican officials have threatened legal action — including some places where abortion is still legal and available. The pharmacy chain said in a statement to NPR on Friday that it's still taking steps to sell the drug in "jurisdictions where it is legal and operationally feasible."

The confirmation came a month after 20 Republican state attorneys general, mostly from states where abortion is banned or heavily restricted, sent letters threatening Walgreens and other pharmacies with legal action if they dispensed mifepristone, an abortion pill.

The Food and Drug Administration finalized a new rule in January allowing retail pharmacies to get certified to distribute the drug, and companies including Walgreens and CVS said they're applying for certification. Medication abortion — not surgery — is the most common way that people terminate pregnancies, especially in the first trimester, when most abortions occur.

"At this time, we are working through the certification process" and not yet distributing the drug anywhere, Walgreens said in a letter to Kansas' attorney general last month. "Walgreens does not intend to dispense Mifepristone within your state."

The company said in a statement to NPR that it has responded to all of the attorneys general to assure them it won't distribute mifepristone in their states.

Mifepristone — which is also used to ease miscarriages — is still allowed in some of the states where Walgreens won't sell it, including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana. The situation underscores how challenging it can be to obtain an abortion even in states where it remains legal.

The other pharmacy chains to which Republican attorneys general sent their letters — including CVS, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid, Albertsons and Kroger — did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment about whether they are considering following suit.

For more than two decades, only specialty offices and clinics could distribute mifepristone. An FDA decision in December 2021 permanently allowed doctors to prescribe mifepristone via telehealth appointments and send the drug through the mail.

An ongoing case before a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas seeks to challenge the FDA's original approval of mifepristone altogether.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.