Walgreens assures Iowa AG it won't dispense abortion medication here

The major pharmacy chain Walgreens has informed Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird that the company will not dispense a drug commonly used for medication abortions and miscarriage care in the state. Walgreens operates 72 stores in Iowa, according to the company’s website.

Last month, Bird and other Republican attorneys general co-signed a letter warning Walgreens that “federal law expressly prohibits using the mail to send or receive any drug that will ‘be used or applied for producing abortion.'”

Alice Miranda Ollstein reported for Politico on March 2 that Walgreens “has since responded to all the officials, assuring them that they will not dispense abortion pills either by mail or at their brick-and-mortar locations in those states.”

Fraser Engerman, Walgreens’ senior director for external relations, confirmed in a March 3 email to Bleeding Heartland,

We have responded to the state attorneys general letter to Walgreens dated February 1 by indicating we will not dispense Mifepristone in their respective states. We are not distributing Mifepristone at this time. We intend to be a certified pharmacy and will dispense Mifepristone only in those jurisdictions where it is legal and operationally feasible.

Engerman has not explained why Walgreens would avoid dispensing mifepristone in Iowa, which has enacted no statutes restricting medication abortion. State law allows abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some regulations including a mandatory ultrasound and 24-hour waiting period. Mifepristone is used up to about 70 days (ten weeks) gestation.

The letter Bird signed did not argue that dispensing mifepristone from a brick-and-mortar store would be illegal. It was concerned with “mail-order abortion pills.”

Engerman did not provide a copy of Walgreens’ letter to Bird. The company’s letter to Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach promised, “Walgreens does not intend to dispense Mifepristone within your state and does not intend to ship Mifepristone into your state from any of our pharmacies.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s office has not responded to Bleeding Heartland’s request for copies of letters from pharmacy chains to Bird regarding plans to distribute abortion medication in Iowa. Nor have Bird’s staff replied to earlier questions about the warnings to pharmacies or her decision to support a Texas lawsuit seeking to revoke the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone nationwide.

State data indicates that medication abortions accounted for about two-thirds of all pregnancy terminations in Iowa in 2019 and nearly 80 percent of terminations in 2020, the most recent year for which final statistics are available. The most common regimen for medication abortions in the U.S. involves mifepristone followed by misoprostol.

Top photo by Laura Belin taken outside the Walgreens on 22nd Street in West Des Moines.

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