Two of biggest US pharmacy chains to stock mifepristone abortion pill

Two of the largest pharmacy chains in the US, CVS and Walgreens, will start selling the abortion pill mifepristone on prescription at stores in several US states later this month, the New York Times reported on Friday, citing interviews with officials at both companies.

Joe Biden quickly applauded the decision, issuing a statement from the White House hailing an “important milestone” in maintaining access to the pill and encouraged other pharmacies to pursue similar options.

“With major retail pharmacy chains newly certified to dispense medication abortion, many women will soon have the option to pick up their prescription at a local, certified pharmacy – just as they would for any other medication,” the US president said.

“The stakes could not be higher for women across America,” he added.

The two pharmacy chains will not be providing the medicine by mail, the newspaper reported.

In the coming weeks, CVS will begin filling prescriptions for the abortion medication mifepristone in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Times reported. The pharmacy chain said it received certification to dispense the medication in states where abortion is still legal. And CVS intended to add those states to its distribution “on a rolling basis”, chain spokeswoman Amy Thibault said to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Walgreens will begin providing the pill in a select number of pharmacies in California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

“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,” a Walgreens spokesperson, Fraser Engerman, told the Times.

Although both chains have plans to expand dispensing of the medication to other states where it is legally permissible, they have held off on expanding access where abortion bans are in place, the Times reported.

The latest news comes as Republican-led states have widely blocked access to abortion since the US supreme court in 2022 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision making access to abortion a national right in the US.

Last December, the supreme court agreed to hear oral arguments in a case about abortion medication. The decision of that case, set for this summer, could further challenge access to mifepristone.

It was 2000 when the FDA approved mifepristone to terminate pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, when used with a second drug, misoprostol.

Labeling from the FDA for more than 20 years limited dispensing to a subset of specialty offices and clinics, due to safety concerns.

Mifepristone is taken first to dilate the cervix and block the hormone progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. Misoprostol is taken 24 to 48 hours later, causing the uterus to contract and expel pregnancy tissue.

CVS has nearly 9,400 stores in the US. Walgreens has about 8,700.

Reuters and AP contributed reporting