Lupin 2023

Expect a resolution that saves face for all

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Walgreens (along with CVS, Rite Aid and several regional mass retailers) has been in the news recently, though not for the usual reasons — and not under the most favorable circumstances. Along with other newspapers and periodicals, The New York Times has lately put Walgreens in its cross hairs, with attention-grabbing headlines such as these: “Walgreens Under Fire for Not Offering Abortion Pill in 21 States” (March 6) and “California Cuts Off Walgreens Over Stance on Abortion Pill” (March 9).

Behind the stories to which these headlines refer is the latest chapter in the ongoing tug of war that emanated from the Supreme Court decision, last summer, overturning Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had enshrined a national right to an abortion.

The latest skirmish was triggered by Walgreens’ decision not to dispense an abortion pill in 21 states where Republican attorneys general have threatened legal action against pharmacies that attempt to distribute the medication.

The Times’ initial story was followed, three days later, by a second article, this one referring to a decision by the governor of California not to renew a multimillion-dollar contract with America’s second-largest drug chain following its announcement that it would stop selling mifepristone, the drug in question. “California will not stand by as corporations cave to extremists and cut off critical access to reproductive care and freedom,” the governor said in a statement.

Without getting involved in the legal wrangling behind Walgreens’ decision, the feeling here is that Walgreens is being unduly disciplined for making a corporate decision. As a Walgreens spokesperson put it, the retailer had always said it would dispense mifepristone where state laws allowed pharmacies to do so and has determined that it would face legal repercussions in the 21 states that have threatened legal action against pharmacies that try to distribute the medication.

The retailer, and others, are caught between an attempt to do what it has always been free to do — dispense prescription drugs — and the threat from various state governments to prosecute the company for doing so. It is, at best, an unenviable position, but one in which the retailer can hardly be faulted for doing what it has always been legally free to do.

This scenario will inevitably play itself out, with some short-term solution likely to give all those parties involved a face-saving way out of the imbroglio.

Even now, various forces are lining up on each side of the equation.

The American Pharmacists Association, for example, is aligning itself on both sides of the issue, rightly insisting that the assorted innuendos “are creating even more complications and confusion, particularly for pharmacies,” while adding that “it’s the states that hold a pharmacy’s license, so the pharmacy is going to follow state law so that they can maintain their license” and concluding that “it’s the safety of pharmacy staff, too. Just having the ability for your staff to come into work safely and then work in a safe space” is a consideration. If that statement confuses you, you’re not alone.

Meanwhile, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, Costco, Kroger and a host of other pharmacy retailers continue to monitor the situation. How sad, and unnecessary, for retail pharmacy.


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