Republican attorneys general from 20 states sent a letter Wednesday to Walgreens and CVS with a warning about the potential legal dangers of the major pharmacies’ plans to dispense prescription abortion pills.
The move marks a clear escalation in the next frontier of the so-called abortion wars: limiting access to abortion pills.
“We emphasize that it is our responsibility as state attorneys general to uphold the law and protect the health, safety, and well-being of women and unborn children in our states,” wrote the attorneys general, who represent states including Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Texas. (Many of these states already have some kind of abortion ban on the books.) “Part of that responsibility includes ensuring that companies like yours are fully informed of the law so that harm does not come to our citizens.”
In other words: Nice company you have there. Shame if anything were to happen to it.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would loosen the rules around mifepristone, one of two drugs typically involved in a medication-induced abortion, to let everyday pharmacies dispense it for the first time. Walgreens and CVS promptly announced their plans to sell the pills in states that allow it. (The pills will not be available, for example, in states that already have abortion bans on the books.)
The announcement fired up the anti-abortion movement, which has been on the hunt for a new bogeyman since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. Now, Walgreens and CVS may have just become their next targets, as activists claim that allowing the chains to dispense mifepristone will turn everyday pharmacies into abortion clinics.
At least one major anti-abortion group, Students for Life of America, have already announced their plans to start picketing pharmacies, just like the movement has done outside abortion clinics for decades.
“I don’t want to go into a drugstore and be able to buy my chewing gum and my tights and then get a pill that ends a life,” one Students for Life spokesperson told Catholic News Agency. “It’s just not acceptable.”
The letter from the attorneys general also hinted at another emerging strategy from the anti-abortion movement: invoking the Comstock Act, a 19th-century federal anti-obscenity law.
Anti-abortion activists looking to cut off abortion access have already started to craft local ordinances in states like New Mexico that use the Comstock Act as proof that it’s illegal to mail abortion-related materials, including pills. A lawsuit over the Comstock Act, they hope, could slash abortion access across the country. And although the Biden administration’s Justice Department recently issued a memo refuting this interpretation of the Comstock Act, the attorneys general dismissed that guidance.
“We reject the Biden administration’s bizarre interpretation, and we expect courts will as well,” they wrote in their letter. “Obviously, a federal criminal law—especially one that is, as here, enforceable through a private right of action—deserves serious contemplation.”
CVS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Walgreens spokesperson told VICE News that the company is not currently dispensing mifepristone.
"We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program, however we fully understand that we may not be able to dispense mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program," the spokesperson added in an email.
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