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CVS, Walgreens to begin selling abortion pill this month

FILE PHOTO: Boxes of Mifepristone, the first pill in a medical abortion, are seen at Alamo Women’s Clinic in Carbondale, Illinois, U.S., April 20, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/ File photo

By Doina Chiacu

(Reuters) -CVS and Walgreens, the two largest U.S. pharmacy chains, will start selling abortion pill mifepristone at stores in several states this month, drawing praise from President Joe Biden who has made access to abortion a key election campaign issue.

The announcement Friday comes as a legal challenge to the pill, brought in Texas by anti-abortion groups and doctors, was due to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this month. The court ended its recognition of a constitutional right to abortion in 2022 when it overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent.

Biden, calling the decision a milestone, encouraged interested pharmacies to seek certification to dispense the drugs.

In a statement, Biden said the stakes could not be higher for women across America, and cited “relentless attacks on reproductive freedom by Republican elected officials.”

The Biden campaign has put abortion rights front and center in the Nov. 5 election in which he will likely face Donald Trump, and argues abortion access is a personal freedom that the former president and his fellow Republicans are denying women.

Republicans have issued restrictive abortion laws in nearly two dozen states since the Supreme Court reversal of abortion rights, arguing that abortion ends the life of a human being and that stricter limits are needed at the state and national level.

It is a galvanizing issue that Democrats hope will boost enthusiasm among their base, attract independent voters and increase turnout in November’s election.

The companies said last year they planned to offer the pill following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to allow retail pharmacies to sell mifepristone in the country for the first time.

Walgreens said on Friday it expected to begin dispensing the pills within a week, in select locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois.

CVS will begin filling prescriptions for the medication in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the weeks ahead and expand to additional states, where allowed by law, on a rolling basis.

Mifepristone, approved by the FDA in 2000, is one of two drugs used in medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of U.S. abortions.

The recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and other groups sued the FDA in 2022, saying it had not adequately considered the risks of the drug when it first approved it, or when it later eased restrictions on its distribution.

The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling in the case is expected by the end of June – in the middle of the presidential race.

The Biden administration appealed an August decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would curb how mifepristone is delivered and distributed, barring telemedicine prescriptions of the drug and shipments by mail.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the lower court’s decision rolling back FDA rules on how the drug is distributed, the pharmacies would have to reverse their policy, according to Katie Kraschel, a Northeastern University law professor specializing in health policy.

“They would have to stop dispensing it and revert back to FDA’s previous regulations that only allowed patients to receive mifepristone from the clinic where it was prescribed,” Kraschel said in an email.

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