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Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 16, 2022.(AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

CVS and Walgreens announced on March 1 that they would begin dispensing the abortion pill mifepristone, also known under its brand name, Mifeprex. The Walgreens website lists New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois as the first states where the pills will be dispensed.

Walgreens, a pharmacy giant with about 8,600 locations, completed the process of certification to sell mifepristone with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 2023 and plans to begin selling the drug this week, and plans to expand sales to stores in other states.

“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,” the Walgreens website reads.

In states where abortion is legal, patients normally obtain mifepristone directly from their doctors in-office, from clinics such as Planned Parenthood, or, in some states, via telemedicine and through the mail.

“With major retail pharmacy chains newly certified to dispense medication abortion, many women will soon have the option to pick up their prescription at a local, certified pharmacy—just as they would for any other medication,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I encourage all pharmacies that want to pursue this option to seek certification.”

Mifepristone will be dispensed at CVS pharmacies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and the company intends to expand the offering to more states as the law allows, according to CNN. CVS operates over 9,000 pharmacies nationwide. 

The pharmacies will dispense the medication on the basis of a prescription from a certified medical professional, but they will not be able to send it  by mail, the New York Times reports

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 as the first part of a two-step nonsurgical abortion regimen, along with a second drug, misoprostol, which both CVS and Walgreens already dispense. The two-step regimen is also used in miscarriage care. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, Louisiana, ruled in August 2023 that mifepristone should not be prescribed after seven weeks of pregnancy or be available via telehealth, after a group of anti-abortion physicians and Christian medical groups argued that the FDA should never have approved the medication. The ruling did not remove the drug from the market.

In September 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling. In December 2023, it agreed to do so. The court will hear oral arguments in the case on March 26.

“Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania celebrates the expansion of access to abortion care, which is critical following the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022,” Sydney Etheredge, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said in an email sent to the Pennsylvania Independent.

Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania up to 23 weeks of pregnancy. However, Planned Parenthood notes, the state’s Abortion Control Act includes restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period, informed consent counseling that includes information “designed to discourage” a patient, and consent from a parent or guardian for minors.  

“Although Mifepristone is safe and effective, these state regulations, along with the upcoming Supreme Court case challenging the legitimacy of the FDA’s approval, put this type of expansion into question,” Etheredge said. 

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, 21 states have banned or restricted abortion. Medication abortions account for over half of all U.S. abortions. 

Rabia Muqaddam, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told CBS News the announcement by CVS and Walgreens was “absolutely a game-changer.” 

“This type of dispensing is going to be huge for patients who struggle to travel. We’re going to see much better health outcomes,” Muqaddam added. 

Abortion rights activists are also applauding the announcement on March 4 that Opill, the first oral contraceptive approved for over-the-counter use by the FDA, will be shipped to stores across the country. 

Opill, manufactured by the Perrigo Company, is a progestin-only oral contraception, meaning it uses a single hormone called a progestin. It was approved by the FDA for prescription use in 1973 and received approval for use without a prescription in July 2023.

“Ensuring people have a wide range of contraception options for planning pregnancies is a crucial aspect of reproductive autonomy and has significant benefits for the health, economic security, and educational outcomes of Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people,” Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, an advocacy group, said in a statement.

Opill will be available in the family-planning aisles of stores and sold online. It currently costs $19.99 a month, but according to the company’s website, a three-month pack will soon be available for $49.99. 

“It doesn’t require a doctor’s visit, which means it doesn’t require time off work or potentially a babysitter or finding a doctor,” Triona Schmelter, an executive at Perrigo, told NPR. “You can walk into any local retailer and, in the family planning section, pick it up at your convenience.”

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