Are CVS and Walgreens prepared to be at the center of the abortion debate?

Discussion
Demonstration on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision, Jan. 2013 – Photo: Getty Images/Coast-to-Coast
Jan 20, 2023

CVS and Walgreens have both begun the certification process to sell abortion pills under a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation that will allow the medication to be offered by retail pharmacies for the first time. Not unsurprisingly, the backlash has begun.

Anti-abortion advocates are organizing pickets outside CVS and Walgreens for early February in at least eight cities, promising the kinds of chants, signs and confrontations long used to deter visits to abortion clinics. A call-in campaign and national boycott of the chains are also planned.

“We want people to be uncomfortable going into a CVS that has a demonstration going on and to consider going to a different pharmacy,” Caroline Smith, a leader of the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, told Politico. “We also want to put enough pressure on the companies to retract this decision and not get certified to sell abortion pills.”

Abortion rights advocacy groups quickly cheered the new regulations.

Patients will still need a prescription from a certified healthcare provider and both Walgreens and CVS plan to comply with federal and state laws. Currently, about half of U.S. states ban or restrict abortion.

Rite Aid is among the host of pharmacies reviewing the FDA action. Such certifications are not required for most drugs, and following guidelines are expected to be challenging to navigate across states. Lewis Grossman, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law, told CNN, “This particular pharmacy certification regime seems much more onerous than one would expect for a random drug with a similar safety profile.”

Risks also include backlash from staff. A nurse practitioner in Texas recently filed a federal lawsuit against CVS after she was fired for refusing to prescribe birth control, citing her “Christian faith.”

The bigger risk appears to be getting caught up in the national debate over abortion.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Greer Donley, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who specializes in abortion policy, said he believes there’s not much incentive to sell a drug “that’s unlikely to make that much money and that has the potential to really cause them a lot of problems.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are CVS and Walgreens making the right business decision to pursue certification to sell abortion pills? How should they respond to the criticism they are likely to face?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The job of CVS and Walgreens is to sell what their customers want and need. It is not to pass moral judgement on those customers."
"Retailers used to be generalists — with inventory, politics, messaging. Now they’re hyper-specific, whether they like it or not."
"Our state legislatures are being controlled by a small group of radicals. Ditto with the committees in our Federal House of Representatives. It’s dangerous."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "Are CVS and Walgreens prepared to be at the center of the abortion debate?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The vast majority of Americans support some version of abortion and CVS and Walgreens are in the health delivery business. These companies are right to examine the regulations and then consider how to deliver services to their customers. As long as they are following legal guidelines, they’re doing nothing wrong. However the protesting and disruptions caused by the group in the article shouldn’t be tolerated. If law enforcement can’t manage these situations (which increasingly they can’t), then retailers will simply move out of markets and these same protestors will find their community with fewer options.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The job of CVS and Walgreens is to sell what their customers want and need. It is not to pass moral judgement on those customers. They should probably ignore any criticism as most of it is highly irrational, but the correct response would be to say that they respect the right of each individual to control their own body and to make their own decisions about their health and lives.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Most Americans (according to the polls) are in favor of abortion rights, so not only should CVS and Walgreens, with their health positioning, be pursuing this, we might ask where are Kroger and Walmart?

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

The decision is a good one. The response is, it’s up to a woman to choose. We are not going to engage in the conversation.

And why? Because what’s next? The anti-vaxxers will complain that these companies provide vaccination? Condoms? Birth control pills? Where do you draw the line?

Our state legislatures are being controlled by a small group of radicals. Ditto with the committees in our Federal House of Representatives. That’s just not cool. It’s beyond not cool. It’s dangerous. We are in a very, very dangerous place.

I am sure there are people on this thread who will not like this answer. Guess what? It’s my truth, and I’ve lived it for a very long time and I honestly don’t care.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

You’re 100 percent right Paula (again). I hadn’t even considered the impact of vaccinations bans, or non-prescription birth control. We’ve already had pharmacists try to claim religious exemption protects them from dispensing pills. I can only imagine what’s next.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’m right with you on this one, Paula. But the big drug chains had better brace themselves for the backlash. And possibly invest in some security measures too.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

These are very difficult issues to navigate for any business. As much as I think drug stores should offer these legal products that they are authorized by the government to sell, I also wish fewer retailers would sell guns, which are also legal and government-authorized. I suspect the leadership of CVS and Walgreens accounted for potential backlash when they decided to begin offering these prescriptions. I hope they have very thoughtful PR plans and, more importantly, I hope they have well-communicated response and support plans in place for stores that are faced with these protests.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Guns? Yes, great point, Dave.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The pharmacy’s job is to provide healthcare as prescribed by a doctor. It is not their job to make moral judgments. If the protestors don’t like the pharmacies doing their healthcare job, they should go to their statehouses.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Doctors prescribe and pharmacists fulfill. Period. Those are the rules, and they need to stick to them. Pharmacists are obligated not to second guess the doctor, unless there is some prescribing interaction that the provider missed — in which case there is a clarification, and the doctor calls the shots. Everybody else needs to get over it and get out of the way.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

I am 100 percent behind CVS and Walgreens’ decision to supply the medication that their customers need. As we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s getting harder for retailers to avoid moves that would be considered political. Unfortunately, it’s a bifurcated world out there. Even Walmart and Amazon have been ascribed political parties (Walmart right, Amazon left).

Retailers used to be generalists — with inventory, politics, messaging. Now they’re hyper-specific, whether they like it or not.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

No retailer wants to find themselves at the center of a political and moral issue, but here we are. The movement to control abortion access will not rest until no woman in the United States can terminate a pregnancy, regardless of the reason. They have been hampered a bit by medicinal abortions that are safe and don’t require a visit to a clinic. CVS and Walgreens are taking a stand here, and it remains to be seen at what cost. And where does it end? We’ve already had issues with zealot pharmacists refusing birth control for their patients, invading their privacy, and forcing them to jump through hoops for access to what many women used to take for granted. While I’m glad that these retailers are taking the stand that they are, I don’t envy the political morass they’re walking into. And I don’t envy the poor store teams who will have to deal with angry patients and rogue pharmacists to decide that invading a woman’s privacy trumps meeting patient needs.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I agree with all of the above comments. I would like to see what rational point a pro-abortionist would add to the discussion.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

CVS and Walgreens are absolutely right to fulfill legally prescribed medications for customers. They will also need to provide a professional and safe environment for customers when they pick up these medications, so processes for managing staff, other customers and critics will need to be developed and put into place.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Many will argue businesses should avoid controversy; I won’t disagree, but I will point out the appeasement angle: there’s always someone opposed to something, and only a fool would think if they “just say no (to selling this)” here, they won’t be molested by zealots in the future.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

As key participants in the healthcare system, pharmacies have an obligation to fulfill prescriptions and deliver care, even if some members of the public wish to impose moral constraints.

So CVS, Walgreens and any other licensed pharmacy should dispense abortion pills when prescribed, promptly and without interference.

Pharmacies also have an opportunity to help as many patients as possible avoid the need for such a terrible choice, through birth control product sales, education and perhaps even as mandatory reporters.

The wise words, “safe, legal and rare” still ring true. While the debate over the “legal” part may divide us, can’t we all unite around “rare”?

Mark Self
BrainTrust

They should ignore it and stay away from addressing it altogether. Sell what is sellable, and stay away from the politics here — it is lose/lose for these chains.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The job of CVS and Walgreens is to sell what their customers want and need. It is not to pass moral judgement on those customers."
"Retailers used to be generalists — with inventory, politics, messaging. Now they’re hyper-specific, whether they like it or not."
"Our state legislatures are being controlled by a small group of radicals. Ditto with the committees in our Federal House of Representatives. It’s dangerous."

Take Our Instant Poll

Do you agree with the business decision by CVS and Walgreens to pursue certification to sell abortion pills?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...