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California Will Cut Ties With Walgreens Over The Company's Plan To Drop Abortion Pills

A vertical white sign with the scripted word "Walgreens" on it in red hangs on the side of a brick building.
Walgreens announced last week that it'd stop selling mifepristone, a popular abortion pill, in red states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom says his state will cut ties with the pharmacy giant after the move.
(Michael M. Santiago
Getty Images)
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Last week, Walgreens said it not distribute abortion pills in states where Republican officials have threatened legal action. Now a blue state says it will cut ties with the pharmacy giant because of the move.

"California won't be doing business with @walgreens – or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women's lives at risk," Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in a tweet yesterday with a link to news coverage of Walgreen's decision.

"We're done," he added.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Newsom told NPR that "all relationships between Walgreens and the state" were under review, but declined to share specifics, including a timeline. Walgreens shares fell 1.77% on Monday following Newsom's announcement.

Walgreens has been under fire since confirming last week that it wouldn't dispense the popular abortion pill mifepristone in certain states after 20 Republican state attorneys general sent letters threatening legal action.

An FDA decision in January allowed for retail pharmacies to start selling mifepristone as long as they complete a certification process. Last month, 20 Republican state attorneys generals sent a letter threatening legal action against companies that began carrying the pills. That's left Walgreen's, alongside other national pharmacy giants like RiteAid and CVS, with difficult decisions to make.

Walgreens told NPR on Friday that it would still take steps to sell mifepristone in "jurisdictions where it is legal and operationally feasible." But the drug — which is also used to ease miscarriages — is still legal in some of the states threatening Walgreens, including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana.

Walgreens has not responded to NPR's latest attempt to clarify its position or to respond to Newsom's statement. The company released a statement on Monday saying that it was waiting on FDA certification to dispense mifepristone "consistent with federal and state laws."

California, which would be on track to becoming the world's fourth largest economy if it were its own country, has immense buying power in the health care market.

More than 13 million Californians rely on the state's Medicaid program. Another 1.5 million, including dependents up to the age of 26, are covered by CalPERS, its retirement insurance program.

Even if the state only cut Walgreens out of state employee insurance plans, the company might see a big financial impact: The state insures more than 200,000 full-time employees.

Medication abortion, as opposed to surgery, is the most popular way people terminate pregnancies, accounting for more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

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In addition to Republicans' legal threats against wider distribution of mifepristone, an ongoing federal case in Texas is challenging the FDA's approval of the drug, aiming to remove it from the market altogether.

NPR's Sarah McCammon and Kaitlyn Radde contributed reporting.

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