The FDA did not make a formal statement regarding a regulatory change it made on Jan. 3, 2023. The change authorized retail pharmacies the freedom to offer abortion pills.
The FDA did not make a formal statement regarding a regulatory change it made on Jan. 3, 2023. The change authorized retail pharmacies the freedom to offer abortion pills. Credit: Chris Allen, VOICE

Breanna Reeves 

Retail pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, will offer abortion pills in the United States for the first time following a regulatory change made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on January 3.

The FDA did not formally release a statement regarding the recent modifications, but the organization updated its Questions and Answers for Mifepristone, the FDA-approved abortion drug, 

As many states enact laws to criminalize abortion medication, the FDA’s change could expand access to abortion medication for those who receive prescriptions. In states that already enacted trigger laws designed to restrict abortions, pharmacies may have difficulty dispensing the abortion drug or face criminal penalties.

Mifepristone is one of two drugs used in the medical termination of a pregnancy through 10 weeks of gestation. Mifepristone blocks a hormone called progesterone that is needed for a pregnancy to continue and is used together with Misoprostol.

Prior to the regulatory changes made this week, the Mifepristone Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Program required certified prescribers to distribute Mifepristone directly to the patient in a clinic, medical office or hospital. Under the Mifepristone REMS Program, Mifepristone can be dispensed by a certified pharmacy or by/under the supervision of a certified prescriber. Changes also include permanently eliminating restrictions on mail order shipping of the pills and their prescription through telehealth.

“Today’s news is a step in the right direction for health equity. Being able to access your prescribed medication abortion through the mail or to pick it up in person from a pharmacy like any other prescription is a game changer for people trying to access basic health care,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO and president, in a statement.

Pharmacies can start applying for certification to distribute Mifepristone with one of the two companies that make it in the U.S. – Danco Laboratories and GenBioPro.

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June, states continue to grapple with the loss of reproductive health access, closure of abortion clinics and restrictive laws that criminalize medical personnel and those who seek abortions. States like California, who doubled down on protecting reproductive rights, access to contraceptives and abortion access, have experienced an influx of patients from across the nation who seek safe medical treatment.

This week, a number of reproductive health laws took effect in California, including Proposition 1 which enshrined the right to an abortion and contraceptive use to the state constitution. Additional laws passed that protect access to reproductive health include:

Senate Bill 1375: Allows trained nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to provide abortions without supervision from a doctor.

Assembly Bill 1242: Prohibits state law enforcement agencies in California from assisting with out-of-state abortion investigations.

Assembly Bill 2223: Protects pregnant people from criminal and civil liability in the event of a miscarriage, stillbirth or self-induced abortion.

Assembly Bill 2626: Prevents medical licensing boards from suspending or revoking the certificate of a physician, nurse, nurse midwives and surgeon solely for performing an abortion.

“As abortion access evaporates across the country, and communities of color and people with fewer resources disproportionately suffer the severe medical consequences of forced pregnancy, the FDA’s actions — while inching toward progress — fall short of what science and justice demand,” said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.