Alaska Walgreens locations shelving abortion pill — for now

Mifepristone won’t be available or stocked at Walgreens locations in Alaska, or in many states across the country
Alaska’s Walgreens locations shelving abortion pill
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 9:03 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Walgreens locations in Alaska will keep the abortion pill mifepristone off store shelves until it is both legal and certified by the Food and Drug Administration.

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor was one of nearly two dozen Republican state attorneys general who wrote to Walgreens in early February threatening legal action if the company began distributing the mifepristone abortion drug in their state.

“We emphasize that it is our responsibility as State Attorneys General to uphold the law and protect the health, safety, and well-being of women and unborn children in our states,” the letter read. “Part of that responsibility includes ensuring that companies like yours are fully informed of the law so that harm does not come to our citizens.”

Recent studies report that “medication abortions” like mifepristone account for more than half of all abortions across the country, but the pill in question currently is not on shelves in any of the 50 states.

The attorneys general were responding to an impending change to existing federal policy that would let anyone access the pill by allowing chain and independent pharmacies to dispense it. The pill was already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for at-home use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding the future of the pill in Alaska, Walgreens issued a statement — similar to a post on the company’s Twitter page — saying that Walgreens will dispense the abortion pill as long as it is federally legal, adding that it is seeking to certify the pill in the state.

“Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws,” a Walgreens spokesperson said. “Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do, and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska issued its own statement in response to what they see as a rollback of rights in Alaska.

“When our government tells Alaskans what we can’t say or do, they are telling us what we can’t be,” ACLU Executive Director Mara Kimmel wrote. “Our government is policing our bodily autonomy, our freedom of choice, and our fundamental right to be free thinkers.

None of this is pro-family. None of this builds stronger, healthier, safer communities. It is fundamentally un-Alaskan.”

Taylor wasn’t available in time to provide comment for this story, but in an emailed statement, a spokesperson for his office said the dispensing of mifepristone is “inconsistent with Alaska law.”

“Abortion is legal in Alaska, but must be performed by a physician (under AS 16.18.010(a)) or an advanced practice clinician (under the superior court’s preliminary injunction in Planned Parenthood v. State, 3AN-19-11710CI),” wrote Department of Law Communications Director Patty Sullivan.

“In other words, Alaska law requires that an abortion be performed by a healthcare provider; patients may not self-administer a medication abortion. This means that dispensing mifepristone directly to a patient to take themselves is inconsistent with Alaska law.”

The department argues that the matter of abortion legality and the legality of self-administering the pill are two different subjects altogether.

On Monday, 20 Alaska state lawmakers felt differently, writing a letter to Walgreens and sharing it in a Twitter post urging the company to ignore the attorney general on a constitutional basis.

Rep. Zack Fields of Anchorage pointed to the state constitution in defending Alaskan’s rights to an abortion.

“The attorney general is bullying private corporations in an effort to undermine a constitutionally protected right of Alaskans,” Fields said. “That is the opposite of his job, he took an oath to uphold the constitution, not undermine it.

“The right to abortion, abortion access, is protected in our constitution. It’s been protected for decades, and we just had an election where 70% of Alaskans said ‘Yes, we want to keep the constitution we have.’”

Rep. Jennie Armstrong of Anchorage echoed Fields’ sentiments, stating that abortion is “healthcare, not a social issue,” and that the attorney general and others are working to “undermine” the Alaska constitution.

“If any company were to restrict access to lifesaving medication, that is a huge step backwards for all Alaskans and we should all be really concerned by that,” Armstrong said.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson of Anchorage didn’t mince words when speaking about the rollback of protections and rights tied to abortion services across the country and said that Walgreens’ complicit behavior with Taylor has disappointed her.

“Frankly, I like Walgreens, but I will probably never go in the store again, unless they reverse it,” Gray-Jackson announced.

Rose O’Hara-Jolley works with Planned Parenthood in Alaska and underscored its view that the attorney general’s choice to sign on to the letter did not equal legislation or change laws overnight.

Concerning Alaska’s attorney general, O’Hara-Jolley said Taylor does not unilateral power to take abortion rights and women’s health care rights away from Alaskans.

“He interprets the laws, but he does not make them,” she said. “Our judiciary has said time and time again that Alaskans have a constitutional right to access an abortion.”

Sen. Shelley Hughes is backing a joint resolution in the legislature that opposes abortion in the state of Alaska, and seeks to place further restrictions on abortion services.