Walgreens declines to sell abortion-inducing pill in Alaska after attorney general’s letter

Attorney General Treg Taylor had asked for the firm to not sell the pill by mail; the company stopped it altogether

By: - March 6, 2023 4:22 pm

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor speaks at a news conference on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks / Alaska Beacon)

Following criticism from Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor, the pharmacy chain Walgreens will not seek to sell the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone in Alaska, the company said last week.

Though abortion is legal in Alaska, Taylor was one of 20 Republican attorneys general who wrote the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain and urged it to not sell mifepristone by mail.

The attorneys general said they disagree with a Biden administration analysis approving the sale and distribution of the drug through the mail and by chain pharmacies. Walgreens was one of several firms that had said it would seek to sell the drug, which is not currently available through the mail.

Allowing mifepristone by mail would make abortion access more available to most Alaskans; abortion services are currently available only at hospitals, clinics and four additional sites in the state.

Walgreens operates 11 stores in Alaska: nine in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, one in Fairbanks and one in Soldotna. 

The firm responded to the attorneys general later in the month, saying in individual letters, “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.”

On Monday, the Department of Law provided a copy of the letter addressed to Taylor, which confirms the chain’s decision to act more broadly than requested by the attorney general.

Asked whether Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports Taylor’s action, deputy press secretary Grant Robinson said by email, “The governor has full faith and confidence in the attorney general to uphold Alaska’s state rights and to protect Alaska’s interests both through taking legal action and other avenues outside of the courts.” 

Mifepristone is the second-most-common method of abortion in Alaska, accounting for 442 of 1,226 recorded abortions in 2021 here. 

Those existing actions would not be affected by Walgreens’ decision, but a separate action supported by the attorney general could change that. 

Taylor is among 23 Republican attorneys general who signed a brief in support of a federal lawsuit seeking to block the sale of mifepristone nationwide. That suit, filed in Texas, could be decided within weeks.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration approved rules allowing mifepristone to be dispensed by chain and local pharmacies and through the mail.

That has the potential to increase the availability of medication abortions across the state, but the process isn’t immediate: Individual pharmacies need to obtain permission before selling the pills.

Walgreens is one of only three major drug store chains to publicly say that it plans to sell mifepristone through the mail. CVS, which has five locations in Alaska, is another. Rite Aid, the third, has no locations here.

Taylor signed a similar letter to CVS, but that company has not formally responded.

Costco, Safeway and Fred Meyer have not commented publicly.

There’s no public list of which pharmacies have gone through the certification program required to sell mifepristone.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way to know those kinds of things,” said Alaska state pharmacist Coleman Cutchins.

The Anchorage Daily News contacted several pharmacies across the state who reported having mifepristone on hand or available to order for patients over the counter.

Alaska law prohibits medication abortions unless they are performed by state-licensed doctors, but Planned Parenthood Great Northwest sued the state in 2019, and in 2021, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Josie Garton issued a preliminary injunction suspending the law. That means advanced practice clinicians can also perform medication abortions. That means the doctor or practitioner must be present when the patient takes mifepristone. 

Despite the injunction, which found that Planned Parenthood was likely to succeed at trial, the state is continuing to defend the law, with Garton currently considering motions for summary judgment. A trial is tentatively set for November this year, online court records state.

The new federal rules on mifepristone by mail could supercede the state law, making the drug more available still, but that remains uncertain.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]