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California Will End $54M Walgreens Deal After Company Curbed Abortion Pill Sales

Walgreens is restricting sales of abortion medication even in states where the procedure is legal.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference on October 6, 2022, in San Francisco, California.

California is ending its agreement with retail pharmacy Walgreens after reports revealed that the company has caved to pressure from far right politicians and restricted the sale of abortion medication, even in states where the pills are legal.

The state, led by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, is terminating a $54 million contract with the company that was set to be renewed in May. “This is an attempt to call the question ‘Which side are you on? Whose side are you on?’” Newsom told Politico. “Are you going to just cower in the face of bullies? Are you going to just roll over?”

Newsom previewed the decision in a tweet on Monday, saying, “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens — or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk. We’re done.”

Under the deal with the state, Walgreens has provided medication for people who are imprisoned in the state’s expansive prison system. That contract will now be terminated, and the state will have to go elsewhere to find a medication provider. It is the first of several moves that Newsom says the state is planning to take under its “exhaustive review” of the state’s ties with the company.

Last week, Politico uncovered that Walgreens has decided to stop selling abortion pills in 21 states — including four states where abortion and abortion medications are legal — after a group of Republican state attorneys general threatened the company with legal action.

The decision was widely panned by abortion advocates and sparked boycotts. Advocates say that the move is illustrative of the way that abortion bans can impact access even in states where the procedure is legal, and of Republicans’ willingness to use their power to impose their extremist anti-abortion views.

Walgreens has claimed that it is only doing what other retail pharmacies are doing, and that it is planning to distribute the abortion drug mifepristone wherever it is legal to do so. However, this statement contradicts their letter sent to assuage Republican lawmakers, which assured them that the company wouldn’t distribute mifepristone in states where abortion drugs are currently legal.

Newsom said on Wednesday that the company’s refutation only strengthened his resolve, and emphasized the state’s strong position on abortion.

“Ironically, we’re the size of 21 states’ populations combined,” Newsom said to Politico. “And likely, when the dust settles, we’ll be the fourth largest economy in the world. So, we have, we believe, moral authority, but we also have formal authority and will exercise it in partnership with the Legislature, and in the absence of that, through executive action.”

This is Newsom’s latest move in his quest to protect abortion rights. He is currently leading a coalition of 20 Democratic governors that launched last month called the Reproductive Freedom Alliance. The group’s aim is to share resources, legislative models and executive actions to explore options that lawmakers can take to protect abortion access.

California has also positioned itself as an abortion sanctuary state as 13 states have banned most abortions, with a handful of other states issuing bans that have been temporarily or permanently blocked by courts. Last year, Newsom signed a slate of bills implementing abortion protections in the state, including protections for patients who might travel to the state seeking the procedure.

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