A group of 20 Republican state attorneys general sent a joint letter to Walgreens and CVS on Wednesday warning the major pharmacy chains against mailing and distributing pills used for medication abortion.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey led a coalition that warned the companies that they would be flouting federal and state law if they dispense the medication. The letter comes just a month after the Food and Drug Administration said abortion pills can be offered at retail pharmacies in the United States, a major shift in policy by the Biden administration that could dramatically expand Americans’ access to such medication. The agency also recently dropped the requirement that the pills be collected in person, an expansion of telemedicine that allows people to obtain the medication by mail.
Those shifts have drawn fierce criticism from Republicans.
“As Attorney General, it is my responsibility to enforce the laws as written, and that includes enforcing the very laws that protect Missouri’s women and unborn children,” Bailey said in a statement Wednesday. “My Office is doing everything in its power to inform these companies of the law, with the promise that we will use every tool at our disposal to uphold the law if broken.”
The attorney general pointed to a federal law called the Comstock Act that he said “expressly prohibits using the mail to send or receive any drug that will ‘be used or applied for producing abortion.’” The Justice Department, however, clarified in December that the act does not prohibit the mailing or receipt of medication abortion pills, which laid the groundwork for the FDA ruling.
Medication abortion uses two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, in combination or alone, that induce abortion. The regimen was approved by the FDA in 2000 for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and the regimen now accounts for about half of all abortions in the U.S.
President Joe Biden had vowed to protect and expand access to abortion pills following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had established the right to abortion. The decision prompted dozens of states to ban or severely limit abortion. Many states have laws that prohibit residents from accessing abortion medication by mail, but patients in those states can still attempt to obtain the pills via online consultations or doctors abroad.
Walgreens and CVS have both said the companies intend to complete the certification process required to sell the drugs in states where it is legal. Neither company has done so yet.
“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,” a Walgreens spokesperson told Reuters this week.
The letter was joined by the attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.