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CVS and Walgreens to start selling abortion pills this month

Walgreens, CVS to begin selling abortion pill
Walgreens, CVS to begin selling abortion pill mifepristone 02:16

CVS and Walgreens, the two largest pharmacy chains in the U.S., will start selling abortion pills as soon as this month, the companies said Friday.

Access to the drug mifepristone, commonly known as the abortion pill, will require a prescription. The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone for abortions in 2000, deeming it a safe and effective way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. 

Both CVS and Walgreens told CBS News they have become certified to dispense the pills following regulatory changes the FDA made last year that allow retail pharmacies to sell the pills.

The pharmacies' moves, which come at a time when abortion access has been restricted across parts of the U.S., drew praise from President Biden

"The stakes could not be higher for women across America," Biden said in a statement Friday. "I encourage all pharmacies that want to pursue this option to seek certification," he added.

Women are increasingly turning to the abortion pill, rather than surgery, to end unwanted pregnancies. In 2020, medication abortions accounted for more than half of all abortions in the U.S. That's caused anti-abortion rights advocates to sue the FDA over the drug's approval, as well as to stage protests outside of pharmacies after CVS and Walgreens said last year that they planned to make the medication available to patients.

"It's absolutely a game-changer," Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told CBS News Friday. "This type of dispensing is going to be huge for patients who struggle to travel. We're going to see much better health outcomes."    

Abortion access was curtailed in many states, particularly in the South, after the Supreme Court in 2022 struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

"I think it's a really sad day in America for the women of this country," Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Friday. "I would encourage women to seek out a local pregnancy center and talk to them before taking this pill. There are other alternatives available."

Where abortion pills will be available

The pills will only be available at physical pharmacy locations, and not by mail. 

Walgreens will sell mifepristone in some of its stores in five states: New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and Illinois. 

"Walgreens has completed the FDA certification process to dispense mifepristone and expects to begin dispensing within a week, consistent with federal and state laws," the company said in a Friday statement to CBS News. "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."

CVS said it will begin dispensing the pills at pharmacies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the coming weeks, according to a statement sent to CBS News. CVS said the pill will cost $79, but may be covered by insurance for some patients.

"We've received certification to dispense mifepristone at CVS Pharmacy and plan to fill prescriptions for this medication in states where legally permissible," CVS said. The pharmacy chain added it "will expand to additional states, where allowed by law, on a rolling basis."

The pills' availability at retail pharmacies will make it easier for some patients to access abortion care, but faces looming legal challenges. The Supreme Court will take up the issue in March.

"The announcement by CVS and Walgreens offers the hope of expanded access to reproductive health care for patients in states that permit abortion. However, later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a review of a decision by the Fifth Circuit that would dramatically restrict access to mifepristone," Wendy Parmet, professor of law and co-director of Northeastern's Center for Health Policy and Law told CBS MoneyWatch. "If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court's order, the expanded access promised by today's order will be short-lived." 

Nikki Battiste contributed to this report.

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