The decision by CVS Health and Walgreens is expected to significantly expand access to abortion drug mifepristone. (Related: CVS, Walmart, Walgreens to pay $13.8 billion to resolve opioid lawsuits.)
Before the rule change, the FDA's long-standing ruling regarding abortion medication requires patients to obtain the abortion pill in-person at clinics, hospitals and other certified healthcare providers.
Non-surgical abortion, such as through abortion medication like mifepristone, accounts for around 51 percent of all abortions in the United States. The decision is expected to make abortions more prominent, especially in states where abortion remains legal, but its impact in states that have instituted abortion bans is likely to be very limited.
Mifepristone is FDA-approved for use for terminating pregnancies up to 10 weeks old. It is used in combination with another abortion pill called misoprostol, which women can only get by visiting clinics, hospitals or other certified healthcare facilities. Mifepristone stops the pregnancy from continuing, and misoprostol induces contractions that empty the uterus.
According to the FDA, any pharmacy that wants to dispense mifepristone must be certified. This process includes being able to receive prescriber agreement forms by email and fax and being able to ship the abortion medication through a shipping service that provides tracking information.
Furthermore, pharmacies that want to be certified must designate a representative the FDA can easily contact to carry out the certification process and that representative must oversee compliance with the federal mifepristone Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy Program, an FDA program for monitoring medications like mifepristone with a high potential for causing serious adverse effects.
Perhaps the most logistically intricate step in the certification process is the requirement by the FDA that pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens keep confidential the names of the certified health providers who prescribe mifepristone to women, supposedly in the name of protecting their privacy and safety.
To fulfill this requirement, CVS and Walgreens would have to keep personal information regarding these doctors in the physical stores and off the companywide databases.
In a statement, Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman noted that the company is currently working to get itself certified to dispense mifepristone.
"We are working through the registration, necessary training of our pharmacists, as well as evaluating our pharmacy network in terms of where we normally dispense products that have extra FDA requirements and will dispense these consistent with federal and state laws," said Engerman.
Amy Thibaut, a spokeswoman for CVS, gave a similar statement. She said: "We plan to seek certification to dispense mifepristone where legally permissible."
Other major pharmacy chains in the U.S. like Rite Aid, Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Costco have declined to comment on whether they will get certified to dispense mifepristone. Some of these retailers are weighing the costs of dispensing the abortion pill – particularly the administrative hurdles and potential public backlash they may face – over the potential benefits of added sales.
Learn more about abortion post-Roe v. Wade in the United States at Abortion.news.
Watch this clip from "Judging Freedom" as Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses how legalizing abortion changed America.