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Hochul, James are putting pressure on big pharmacy chains to sell a key abortion medication

New York Attorney General Letitia James, left, and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
James: provided
Hochul: Max Schulte/WXXI News
New York Attorney General Letitia James, left, and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Tish James are asking the nation’s three largest pharmacy chains about their plans to dispense one of two key medicines in a medication abortion after one pharmacy chain said it will not allow the drug to be sold in 21 states where abortion is no longer legal.

Walgreens stopped the sale of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in a medication-induced abortion, after attorneys general in those states threatened the pharmacy chains with legal repercussions.

CVS and Rite-Aid have not yet said what they will do.

Hochul and James have written a letter to the heads of the chains, putting pressure on them from the other side of the abortion debate. In it, they ask the pharmacy chains to “commit to making medication abortion available in retail and mail order pharmacies across New York State,” where abortion is legal.

Hochul, speaking on CNN, said access to the medicines have become even more critical after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed nearly 50 years of abortion rights protections last year in the Dobbs decision.

“We have to because basically, pharmacies have become the new battleground ever since women's rights were stripped in the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June,” Hochul said. “And if they try to suspend the distribution of this important drug to women in the state of New York, there'll be consequences.”

Hochul said she wants to counteract “anti-choice extremists” who have been dominating the debate.

A federal judge in Texas is deciding a case that could outlaw mifepristone in all of the states. A lawsuit filed there claims the federal Food and Drug Administration erred when it approved the drug decades ago.

Hochul said if the judge rules against the use of the drug, she and James will explore legal remedies to allow women in New York to have access to both pills.

“We'll make sure that we pursue every remedy available to us to make sure that women in the state of New York at least are protected,” Hochul said. “But it is heartbreaking.”

Abortions can still be induced using only the second drug in the regimen, misoprostol, but that method is more painful, and poses more health and safety dangers.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.