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Walgreens reverses abortion pill decision after pressure from state attorney

The Walgreens location in Soldotna is one of 11 in the state of Alaska.
Sabine Poux
/
KDLL
The Walgreens location in Soldotna is one of 11 in the state of Alaska.

Pharmacy giant Walgreens is going back on a decision to offer the abortion pill mifepristone in Alaska, following pushback from the state’s attorney general and 19 others nationwide. Abortion pills are still available through medical providers, but doctors say Walgreens’s decision could create new barriers and increase stigma.

In January, the FDA approved the abortion pill mifepristone for retail in pharmacies like Walgreens, which announced shortly after that it would offer the pills in stores and by mail. There are 11 Walgreens locations in Alaska, including one in Soldotna.

But now the company is taking that back. In their letter, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor and the other Republican attorneys general urged Walgreens not to sell the abortion pill by mail and threatened legal action. The pharmacy chain agreed yesterday to not offer the drug in Alaska or the other objecting states. Abortion is legal in Alaska, unlike several of the states that signed on.

Dr. Robin Holmes is a Homer-based family medicine physician who specializes in reproductive health care and is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. She said Alaska’s landscape creates unique challenges for abortion access, and that Walgreens’ announcement could have repercussions even in communities where it does not have stores.

“Many remote places that may be off the road system — or even some communities on the road system — only have access to medications through the mail, and that can be provided by these large chains,” she said.

Holmes said despite the language of the letter, the pill is a safe option and long-overdue on pharmacy shelves. In 2021, it was the second most common method of abortion in Alaska.

She said as it stands, Alaskans seeking the pill now have to get it through a healthcare provider, at a clinic.

“What this was proposing — and what Walgreens has decided not to proceed with — is that a prescriber could prescribe this pill and you could go to a pharmacy and pick it up just like any other medication, like for your diabetes or asthma,” she said.

Holmes said going to a provider’s office to get a pill can be hard in parts of Alaska with few doctors. She also worries the change sends a message about the role that politics can play in medical access in the state.

“Stigma plays a big role in access to reproductive healthcare in this state,” Holmes said. “So what I’m worried about moving forward is that Walgreens changing their policies due to political pressure is gonna further the dangerous stigma.”

In their letter, the attorneys general write that they see it as their responsibility to, “uphold the law and protect the health, safety, and well-being of women and unborn children in our states.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, a group of almost two dozen Alaska legislators shared a letter urging Walgreens to reconsider its decision.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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