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California Is 'Done' With Walgreens Over Abortion Pill Decision

The pharmacy mega chain said it would dispense abortion pills and then quickly caved to anti-abortion protests. Now, California wants to cut business ties.

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Image for article titled California Is 'Done' With Walgreens Over Abortion Pill Decision
Photo: Michael M. Santiago (Getty Images)

Ever since the FDA announced in January that retail pharmacies could get certified to carry abortion medication, a number of chains, including Walgreens, said they would start the certification process. But, after pressure from anti-abortion activists and the threats of lawsuits from Republican lawyers, Walgreens quickly began to cave.

In February, 20 Republican state attorneys general—even from states where medication abortion remains legal—wrote letters threatening legal action should the pharmacy proceed with carrying the meds. On Thursday, the corporation announced it won’t be following through on its initial embrace of the FDA process in those states.

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In theory, this would get Walgreens out of the abortion game in states with active Republican attorneys generals. What it didn’t count on was the pro-abortion response to its pullback. On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that his state will no longer conduct business with Walgreens or its subsidiaries after the pharmacy—the second largest retail pharmacy chain in the country—said it will no longer pursue the qualifications necessary to distribute mifepristone.

“California won’t be doing business with [Walgreens] — or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk,” Newsom tweeted on Monday afternoon. “We’re done.”

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A direct response that’s comforting in its quickness, I guess. But what exactly does a state not doing business with a retail pharmacy chain mean?

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An unnamed Newsom spokesperson told Reuters that “all relationships” between Walgreens and California are being reviewed. The spokesperson did not share how (or what) possible relationships would change.

Usually, when states take this kind of a stand, it has to do with traveling. For example, when Indiana passed a bill in 2015 that allowed companies to claim that their religion was infringed during legal proceedings, a number of states and cities announced a boycott on city-or state-funded travel to Indiana.

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However, unlike travel expenses which are usually more of an action of solidarity, California has major pull in the healthcare space. The state’s massive economy is on pace to overtake Germany as the world’s fourth-largest economy. If it chose to cut Walgreens out of its state employee insurance plans, the impact would be, like the size of California, massive.

Per NPR’s Emily Olson:

More than 13 million Californians rely on the state’s Medicaid program. Even if the state only cut Walgreens out of state employee insurance plans, the company might see a big financial impact: The state insures more than 200,000 full-time employees. Another 1.5 million, including dependents up to the age of 26, are covered by CalPERS, its retirement insurance program.

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Beyond the state insurance program, Yahoo Finance reports that the state is looking to create “a generic drug manufacturing strategy” for Californians, which could be yet another potential cash cow.

Because the Supreme Court insisted on returning abortion issues back to the state, this is likely to be just the first of a series of states looking to make a point about how corporations choose to approach abortion. After all, if you wanted the states to be in charge, can you really get mad when states take a stand?