The stakes are high for Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and the other companies with large pharmaceutical arms, including Kroger, Albertsons and Walmart. The Republican attorneys general wield powerful weapons, including the ability to press charges against companies or individual pharmacists who dispense the abortion pills or even pull the company’s pharmaceutical license in the state.
In an emailed statement, Rite Aid said it was continuing to monitor and evaluate the situation. CVS, Walmart, Costco, Kroger and Albertsons did not respond to emails seeking comment.
“All of the pharmacies are facing the same problem,” said Andrew Gilman, the chief executive of CommCore Consulting Group, a crisis communications firm. “But Walgreens, as the first one to be publicly identified with going along with the state attorneys general request, will face the biggest hit to its reputation.”
The fact that the major pharmacy chains have said since January that they would abide by all relevant state laws has gotten subsumed in the swirl of heightened tensions around the availability of abortion services. And with medication accounting for more than half of abortions in the United States, the pills have increasingly become the focus of lawsuits, legislation and other tactics.
“There is a lot of noise and confusion out there about what’s going on with respect to the availability of these drugs,” said Ilisa Bernstein, the interim chief executive of the American Pharmacists Association. She added, “The court cases, the letters, that’s just creating even more complication and confusion, particularly for pharmacies.”
Ms. Bernstein said pharmacies had a range of concerns to worry about.
“It’s the states that hold a pharmacy’s license, so they’re going to follow state law so that they can maintain their license,” she said, adding: “It’s the safety of pharmacy staff, too. Just having the ability for your staff to come into work safely and then work in a safe space.”
Currently, few pharmacies have completed the certification process to be able to distribute mifepristone. The process is overseen by the two companies that manufacture the pill and involves logistical measures that go beyond the steps pharmacies use with most other medications, such as designating an employee to ensure compliance. It also requires that pharmacies keep confidential the names of the certified health providers who prescribe mifepristone to protect their privacy and safety.