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CVS and Walgreens to start dispensing abortion pill in states where it's legal

Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 16, 2022.
Allen G. Breed
/
AP
Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 16, 2022.

CVS and Walgreens, two of the country's largest retail pharmacies, received federal certification to begin dispensing mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortions, in states where it is legal to do so, the companies separately confirmed to NPR.

CVS will start filling prescriptions for mifepristone in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the weeks ahead, with eventual plans to expand to other states where the drug is legal on a rolling basis, according to a CVS spokeswoman.

Walgreens will begin dispensing the pill at some of its stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Illinois within a week, a spokesman for the company said.

"We are beginning a phased rollout in select locations to allow us to ensure quality, safety, and privacy for our patients, providers, and team members," the Walgreens statement read.

The two pharmacies received certification from the Food and Drug Administration to fill prescriptions and dispense the commonly used pill, expanding access to abortion at a time when many states are further restricting a path to the procedure.

Last year, the FDA passed arule that allows pharmacies to fill prescriptions for abortion pills. Before this rule change was finalized, pregnant people had to get the drug straight from their doctors or by mail via telehealth consultations.

Mifepristone remains at the center of an ongoing legal battle between anti-abortion activists and the FDA. Anti-abortion rights groups sued the agency in 2022 over the approval of mifepristone — a drug that had been in use for more than 20 years.

A federal judge ruled against the abortion pill last year. But, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case later this month.

President Biden called the move to certify the sale by the two major pharmacies "an important milestone in ensuring access to mifepristone."

He said in a statement, "I encourage all pharmacies that want to pursue this option to seek certification."

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Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.