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Hirono Raises Concern Over Reports Walgreens May Not Dispense Medication Abortion, Seeks Clarity on Company Policy

Lawmakers: “The refusal to dispense a medication that is legal and safe to patients in need would be a betrayal of your customers, and your commitment ‘to champion the health and well-being of every community in America.’”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) sent a letter to Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer, expressing concern regarding recent reports that the company would not dispense medication abortion in 21 states where Republican Attorneys General have threatened the company. In addition to Senator Hirono, the letter was also sent by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“As of March 2023, at least 17 states have eliminated all or some access to abortion, with additional states expected to implement new bans this year,” wrote the lawmakers. “These measures endanger millions of Americans and limit access to other essential health care services, such as care for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and other complications, in addition to banning or limiting abortion care.”

Early this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permanently removed the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in medication abortion, and announced that it would allow certified pharmacies to dispense the medication. Following that announcement, Walgreens, as well as other pharmacies, announced that they intended to complete the certification process to dispense mifepristone. 

In February of this year, a group of Republican Attorneys General sent a letter–littered with inaccuracies–to Walgreens and CVS in an attempt to intimidate the pharmacies into walking back their commitment to dispense mifepristone. In response, last week, reports indicated that Walgreens would not distribute the medication in those states, including several, such as Kansas, Montana, Iowa, and Alaska, where medication abortion remains legal.

“Given this ongoing attack on access to abortion care, we had grave concerns about reports that Walgreens had decided not to dispense medication abortion in states where it remains legal, viewing it as yet another limit on access to crucial care,” wrote the lawmakers. “Such action would have been a disservice to your patients, and inconsistent with Walgreens’s purpose, ‘to champion the health and well-being of every community in America.’”

In the letter to Walgreens sent by the lawmakers highlight the decades of evidence proving the safety and efficacy of mifepristone and argue that this decision would not only be inconsistent with Walgreens’s mission “to champion the health and well-being of every community in America,” but also a betrayal of the company’s customers. On Monday, Walgreens released a new statement appearing to reverse its decision to unjustly deny patients access to mifepristone.

“Each day, women’s lives are threatened because they are denied access to essential health care, and we are hopeful that Walgreens’s latest statement on this matter means the company will not engage in such a denial,” wrote the Senators. “To clarify your current policies and your ‘commitment to the communities in which (you) operate,’ we ask that you provide answers to the following questions no later than March 14, 2023.”

The full text of the letter is available here.

A long-time champion for abortion access, Senator Hirono is committed to protecting the fundamental right to abortion care for all. Earlier this week, Senator Hirono introduced legislation to expand protections for Americans’ personal health data privacy following reports that have shown social media companies are collecting and data brokers are selling location data that could be used to identify individuals seeking reproductive health care services. She also led 30 of her colleagues in pushing to prevent local and state law enforcement from using federal assistance to surveil or investigate individuals receiving or providing abortion care.

Last month, she introduced the Secure Access for Essential Reproductive (SAFER) Health Act, legislation that would expand patient privacy protections by strengthening the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to prohibit medical providers from disclosing personal health information related to abortion or pregnancy loss without patient consent. Senator Hirono also urged the Biden administration to take new steps to protect reproductive freedom amidst divided control of Congress and increasing efforts to restrict access to abortion.

In August, she introduced the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act to protect doctors against Republicans’ non-stop attacks and ensure they can safely provide abortion care in states where it is still legal. She also led a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services urging them to make medication abortion more easily accessible. In July, Senator Hirono introduced the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022, which clarifies that it is illegal for anti-choice states to limit travel for abortion services, and would empower impacted individuals to bring civil action against those who restrict an individual’s right to cross state lines to receive legal reproductive care.