- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Neighborhood drugstores still reeling from Black Lives Matter riots, shoplifting surges and opioid litigation now face a new challenge: pushback over the abortion pill.

Pro-life groups mobilized after Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid confirmed that they plan to fill prescriptions for the two-drug abortion regimen. They were responding to the Food and Drug Administration’s Jan. 3 finalization of a rule that lets retail pharmacies dispense the pills in stores and via mail.

Since then, the pharmaceutical chains have had a taste of what it’s like to be Planned Parenthood.

The pro-life group Live Action crashed the annual Walgreens shareholders meeting on Jan. 26 in Newport Beach, California. The Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising held protests outside an estimated 55 drugstores in a coordinated Feb. 4 action.

On Tuesday, activists rallied outside Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois, where they chanted “abortion pills kill” and signed an outsized Valentine’s Day card to CEO Rosalind Brewer asking her to rethink the company’s “reckless decision to turn every Walgreens pharmacy into an abortion facility.”

The activists tried to enter company headquarters to give her the card personally, but they were turned away by security.

“We’re here today because major greedy corporations like Walgreens have decided to put their profit line above, and at the expense of, human life and women’s safety,” Sarah Michalak, Students for Life of America programs manager, told the crowd.

The movement is just getting started.

Students for Life is organizing a National Day of Protest on March 4 as part of its newly launched “Cancel Abortion Cartels” campaign urging pharmacies across the country to opt out of dispensing abortion pills.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom has a case before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenging the FDA’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, one of the two drugs sanctioned for use to terminate pregnancies before 11 weeks of gestation.

The full-court press comes at a pivotal moment for pro-life advocates.

Conservative-leaning states responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning of Roe v. Wade last year by banning most abortions. The Biden administration countered by loosening restrictions on abortion pills, now the nation’s most common method.

Allowing the pills to be prescribed via telehealth and filled by retail pharmacies makes abortion that much more accessible, moving the fight on the ground from outside Planned Parenthood clinics to local drugstores.

Since 2006, Plan B emergency contraception, which many pro-lifers consider to be an abortifacient, has been available over the counter. The Obama administration later allowed it to be sold to minors.

Ms. Michalak called the rise of the latest abortion pill ironic, given that Planned Parenthood has long billed itself as a safe alternative to back-alley abortions.

“We’re often accused of wanting to endanger women’s lives by making abortion illegal, forcing women to have abortions on their own,” she said at the rally.

“Well, America, welcome to 2023, where the abortion industry has made chemical abortion pills available in their local Walgreens, their student health centers and online, where women can have a DIY abortion with no medical oversight,” Ms. Michalak said.

Fraser Engerman, senior director for external relations, said Walgreens is not yet filling abortion pill prescriptions. The company has said it plans to complete the federal registration process and provide necessary training to its pharmacists.

“We believe strongly in the right to peaceful protest,” Mr. Engerman said in an email. “We are not dispensing Mifepristone at this time. We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program, however we will only distribute in those jurisdictions where it is legal to do so if we are certified.”

CVS Pharmacy and the Walgreens Boots Alliance are the nation’s two largest drugstore chains in terms of locations. CVS has 9,651 stores, and Walgreens has 8,804 in the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and territories, according to the data company ScrapeHero.

It’s been one thing after another for retail pharmacies that were hit by looting and vandalism during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

Walgreens and CVS shuttered dozens of stores in cities because of spikes in shoplifting, a rise in online shopping and other factors.

In December, Walgreens and CVS agreed, without admitting wrongdoing, to pay $10 billion to settle cases brought in several states over their reported role in stoking the opioid crisis.

At the rally, Right to Life of East Texas Director Mark Lee Dickson predicted more litigation if the pharmacies agree to dispense abortion pills.

“Walgreens might want to ask Planned Parenthood how many lawsuits they’ve had over the years,” Mr. Dickson said. “Do they really want that? Do they really want to see our beautiful faces outside of their facilities, of their businesses, on a regular basis?”

Pro-choice advocates argue that “medication abortion” has been used for 22 years and has proved to be safer than over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol. The pro-life side counters that “chemical abortion” is more dangerous and traumatic than billed by its advocates.

Speakers said women are more likely to suffer complications from taking abortion pills than from undergoing surgical procedures and that 28 women have died since 2000 from causes such as sepsis and hemorrhaging.

Toni McFadden, author of “Redeemed: My Journey After Abortion,” said she took abortion pills at 18 to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy, but they didn’t work.

Instead, she was hit two months later at school with bleeding and “excruciating pain.”

“What I was experiencing was severe hemorrhaging. Blood clots the size of my fist leaving my body for hours,” she said. “At one point, I remember laying in fetal position in my bed wondering if I was going to die.”

Some pro-life advocates called for boycotting Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid and patronizing chains such as Jewel-Osco and Fred Meyer instead — if they can persuade those drugstores to stay on the sidelines.

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League in Illinois, said he doubted Walgreens would change its mind, but that perhaps the activism would send a message to other pharmacies.

“We hope that at least Walmart, Mariano’s, Jewel, Meyer, some of the other big chains will take a look at what’s happening and say, ‘We don’t want any part of this,’” said Mr. Scheidler. “‘We don’t want people picketing our retail stores and going to our corporate headquarters and handing them weird Valentine’s Day cards with fetuses all over them.’”

His organization sent Valentine’s Day-themed flyers with the message “Keep Abortion Out of Our Pharmacies” for activists to “put under car windshields or hand out to customers at your local Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid stores.”

He said pro-life advocates “need to be aware of what we can do.”

“We may not be able to stop CVS and Walgreens, but we can certainly stop the next guys,” Mr. Scheidler said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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