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Retail chains and risky abortion drugs

Buyer beware as CVS and Walgreens move into the abortion business


A Walgreens retail store in Boston, Mass. Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa, file

Retail chains and risky abortion drugs
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Last week, the president of the United States heralded Friday as an “important milestone” for the American people. The milestone? Declining inflation? Energy independence? An encouraging unemployment report? A less polarized political climate? None of the above. The president was celebrating that mifepristone—the abortion drug approved to terminate pregnancies up to ten weeks gestation—is now available at many local pharmacies.

How far we have come from the world in which pro-abortion politicians spoke about abortion being safe, legal, and rare. The administration’s most recent actions all but ensure the abortion drug will be unsafe for many women, ubiquitous, and routinely mailed into states where it is unlawful.

CVS and Walgreens, two of the largest retail pharmacy chains in America, announced last week that they are moving into the abortion business. CVS will begin filling prescriptions for mifepristone in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with plans to expand to other states. Walgreens will dispense the drug in certain pharmacies in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois within the week. President Joe Biden said, “many women will soon have the option to pick up their prescription at a local, certified pharmacy—just as they would for any other medication.”

But mifepristone is not your ordinary prescription. The drug is part of a two-drug regimen that results in the death of an unborn child and involves serious risks for its mother. Mifepristone is a progestin antagonist that blocks nutrition to the developing baby, starving it to death. Misoprostol then induces contractions to expel the child from her mother’s womb.

The move by CVS and Walgreens is just the latest to remove important safeguards on abortion drugs. When the FDA first approved the drug, it slapped a Black Box warning on its label, acknowledging that the drug could cause serious side effects and even death. It also required doctors to provide ongoing care to women using the drugs, including in-person doctor visits to screen for ectopic pregnancies, severe bleeding, and life-threatening infections. Yet the FDA has stripped away these safeguards, increasing the already known risks when it stopped ensuring that women receive vital screenings to prevent life-threatening complications from these drugs.

The FDA’s own label shows that roughly 1 in 25 women end up in the emergency room after taking abortion drugs.

Under the FDA’s current rules, women can obtain these drugs online by answering a few brief questions. The drugs are shipped to their homes or dorm rooms for women to take all alone, without the women having ever seen a healthcare provider in person. Now women can pick up abortion drugs from a local pharmacy, again without ever having seen a healthcare professional in person to check for dangerous conditions.

Make no mistake: Contrary to the media’s narrative, abortion drugs are not as safe as Tylenol. Indeed, the FDA’s own label shows that roughly 1 in 25 women end up in the emergency room after taking abortion drugs. And that is before the agency stripped away the crucial in-person visit to check for dangerous conditions. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom (where I work) is challenging the FDA’s unlawful removal of safeguards at the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was not so long ago when then-Sen. Joe Biden was at least ambivalent on abortion. But such ambivalence is no longer tolerated by the pro-abortion left. Absolute abortion support is now a Democratic requirement for candidates.. In 2020 Biden and other Democrats supported using federal funds for abortion, and many thought that making abortion drugs available over the counter was a good idea—despite their Black Box warning. These extreme positions not only put these pro-abortion politicians at odds with the majority of Americans who overwhelmingly support abortion restrictions in the third trimester but also endangers women’s health.

Studies show that the main reason women choose abortion is economic and that the majority of women who have an abortion say they would have chosen life if their circumstances were different. Instead of promoting radical policies like taxpayer funded abortion without limit, our leaders should be working to change those circumstances to facilitate the flourishing of unborn babies and their mothers. That would be a true milestone.


Erin Hawley

Erin Hawley is a wife, mom of three, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, and a law professor at Regent University School of Law.


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