California governor cuts ties with Walgreens for refusing to dispense abortion medication


Hannah Saunders


Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday that California is backing out of its renewal of a multi-million-dollar contract with Walgreens over the pharmaceutical company’s decision to not dispense mifepristone—a medication taken for abortion and miscarriages—in 21 states, including states where abortion rights are protected.


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Mifepristone, also known as an abortion pill, works by blocking progesterone; without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks apart, which prevents a pregnancy from continuing. It may be used up to 70 days, or 10 weeks, after the first day of an individual’s menstrual cycle. Mifepristone is also used for the medical management of miscarriage; cervical preparation for later second trimester abortions; and management of second and third trimester pregnancies when a fetus has died prior to birth. 

“California will not stand by as corporations cave to extremists and cut off critical access to reproductive care and freedom,” Newsom said in a press release. “California is on track to be the fourth largest economy in the world and we will leverage our market power to defend the right to choose.”

Newsom called for a review of all contracts between Walgreens and California. The contract between California’s Department of General Services and Walgreens allows the state to obtain specialty pharmaceutical prescription medications, which are primarily used by the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and within the correctional healthcare system. 

But on Wednesday, the Department of General Services provided a formal notice of the withdrawal from a planned renewal agreement that was meant to go into effect on May 1st. The state will explore alternative options that offer the same services as Walgreens.

“We want to be very clear about what our position has always been: Walgreens plans to dispense mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so,” stated a Walgreens press release that was posted on Tuesday, which also stated that, once certified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it will dispense any medications that are consistent with state and federal laws.

Walgreens Senior Director of External Relations Fraser Engerman reached out to State of Reform on Thursday to provide an updated statement.

“We are deeply disappointed by the decision by the state of California not to renew our longstanding contract due to false and misleading information,” Engerman said. “Walgreens is facing the same circumstances as all retail pharmacies, and no other retail pharmacies have said that they would approach this situation differently, so it’s unclear where this contract would now be moved.

Our position has always been that, once we are certified by the FDA, Walgreens plans to dispense Mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so, including the state of California. We will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws. Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do, and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate.”

Walgreens Executive Vice President Danielle Gray received a letter signed by 20 state attorneys general, including those from Missouri, Florida, Alaska, Texas, and Georgia, on Feb. 1st. 

“Following your company’s recent announcement that it plans to obtain and sell abortion pills using the mail, we write to advise you of the current law in this changing legal landscape,” the letter stated.

The letter noted that the attorneys general understood that Walgreens intended to abide by state laws, yet cited numerous state and federal laws which threaten legal action. 

“Abortion pills are far riskier than surgical abortions, according to established scientific consensus: “Medication abortions were 5.96 times as likely to result in a complication as first-trimester aspiration abortions”,” the letter stated, while citing a research study with data that is over one decade old

The FDA approved Mifeprex over 20 years ago based on a comprehensive review of available scientific evidence, determining that it is safe and effective. The FDA conducts periodic reviews for Mifeprex and its approved generic alternative, and have not found any new safety concerns with the use of mifepristone for the medical termination of pregnancy through 70 days gestation. 

The FDA finalized a rule in January that increased the availability of abortion pills to reach a greater number of pharmacies, including large pharmacy chains and mail order pharmaceutical companies.