Pritzker expresses concern over Walgreens decision to not distribute abortion pill in 20 states

Pritzker expressed 'deep concern' over Walgreens' decision during a meeting with the company's senior team, his office said.

Sunday, March 5, 2023
Raoul 'assured' Walgreens will keep legally dispensing abortion pills
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he was assured that Walgreens will continue dispensing abortion pills where it can legally do so.

CHICAGO -- Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker urged Walgreens to reconsider its decision not to sell abortion pills in some states during a meeting with the company's senior team, the governor's office said on Saturday.

Deerfield-based Walgreens said on Friday that it will not distribute abortion medication in 20 states, bowing to pressure from anti-abortion lawmakers and lawsuits targeting the legality of medication abortion.

The decision prompted immediate condemnation from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who met with Walgreens staff about the decision Friday afternoon.

Pritzker "expressed his deep concern" about Walgreens' decision, which the governor's office described as a "response to Republican threats." Pritzker's office also said he pledged to help Walgreens get certified to provide abortion medication in Illinois and other states that have not outlawed it.

Walgreens' policy change was made after 20 Republican attorneys general wrote the company a letter threatening legal action if the drug was distributed in their states. Politico on Thursday evening reported the company has responded to the AGs, assuring them they will not dispense the abortion pills either by mail or at their stores.

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"I can confirm we have responded to the state attorneys general letter to Walgreens dated February 1 by indicating we do not intend to dispense Mifepristone in their respective states at this time," Fraser Engerman, Walgreens senior director of external relations told the Sun-Times.

"We intend to be a certified pharmacy and will distribute Mifepristone only in those jurisdictions where it is legal and operationally feasible."

The policy change will affect four states in which the abortion pill is legal but is facing either legislative or legal challengers - Kansas, Alaska, Iowa and Montana. The company noted it was being "cautious" and was monitoring developments in those states.

The news quickly sparked criticism from Pritzker and the White House. Pritzker took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce the decision - while urging Walgreens to "rethink" its policy.

"Women across the nation will be denied their right to access healthcare they are legally entitled to because of this awful corporate decision. @Walgreens must rethink this policy," Pritzker tweeted. "To all the other pharmacy providers, we'll stand with you so you can provide this lifesaving care."

The decision will not affect Illinois, where the abortion drugs are legal. According to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid are among the three pharmacies in Illinois that have requested certification to be able to sell the pill. That status is pending.

HOwever, it will affect people in Indiana.

At her news briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not address the Walgreens decision specifically, but called the Republican legal threats over abortion medication the "product of overreach by Republican officials" to regulate women and their health care.

"It's backwards. Again, it's dangerous, and it's severe and in stark contrast to the president and the commitment that he has to leave these decisions between a woman and her doctor," Jean-Pierre said.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, along with 23 of his Democratic counterparts in other states, sent Walgreens and CVS a letter applauding the competing pharmacies for their decision to offer the abortion pills in their stores. In the letter, Raoul assured both companies that their decisions to dispense mifepristone and misoprostol were on solid legal footing and were supported by legal precedent.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also released a statement on Walgreens' decision.

"It is unacceptable that Republican state officials are bullying private businesses into denying critical health care services to their customers. I'm disappointed that Walgreens has capitulated to these thuggish intimidation tactics, which the Justice Department has made clear have no basis in federal law. I plan to speak to Walgreens' CEO directly to demand an explanation," Durbin said. "This is only one of the damaging consequences of the Supreme Court conservative majority's radical decision to strip away a constitutional right from the American people for the first time in history."

The US Food and Drug Administration had previously said that pharmacies that become certified to dispense mifepristone can do so directly to someone who has a prescription from a certified prescriber.

A spokesperson for Rite Aid said the pharmacy chain is monitoring developments.

"Rite Aid is monitoring the latest federal, state, legal and regulatory developments regarding mifepristone dispensing and we will continue to evaluate the Company's ability to dispense mifepristone in accordance with those developments," spokesperson Catherine Carter told CNN in a statement.

Medication abortion, which now accounts for a majority abortions obtained in the United States, has become a flashpoint in the fallout from the Supreme Court's decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade.

A federal judge in Texas is expected to rule any day on a lawsuit seeking to block the use of medication abortion nationwide, in the biggest abortion-related case since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

The lawsuit, filed in November by anti-abortion advocates against the FDA, targets the agency's two-decade-old approval of mifepristone.

Abortion rights advocates have sounded the alarm on the case, stressing that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would affect every corner of the country since the lawsuit is targeting a federal agency.

"If FDA approval of mifepristone is revoked, 64.5 million women of reproductive age in the US would lose access to medication abortion care, an exponential increase in harm overnight," NARAL said in a statement in February, pointing to internal research.

CNN has also reached out to CVS, Kroger and Walmart about their future plans for distributing mifepristone. The retailers did not immediately respond to the requests for comment.

ABC7 Chicago, the Sun-Times and CNN contributed to this report.