I’m currently reading a book called “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. The story follows chemist Elizabeth Zott through the trials and tribulations of being a female chemist in the 1950s. It’s full of romance, funny stories about parenthood and stories of misogyny and sexism. Although this novel is set in the 1950s, it seems more relevant than ever as we face the loss of women’s rights. Women’s rights and autonomy took a serious hit with the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, and last week, Walgreens put women on notice regarding their ability to access medical care as they will not sell the abortion pill Mifepristone in 21 states. This decision, prompted by Republican attorneys general, is an extreme show of cowardice by Walgreens. Not only are Republicans interfering with personal healthcare decisions, but this choice has once again made access to abortion much more limited for women who don’t live in urban areas.
Mifepristone, commonly branded as Korlym or Mifeprex, accounts for over half of abortions in the United States, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. This statistic is extremely important for women living in a post-Roe world. The Guttmacher Institute also found that in the first 100 days after Roe’s overturning, across 15 states, 66 abortion clinics stopped offering services. Even more shocking, prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, this cluster of 15 states only had 79 abortion clinics. Now only 13 clinics remain, and all of them are in Georgia. In the 15 states immediately impacted by the overturning of Roe, including but not limited to Alabama, Texas and Louisiana, only one state is offering abortion services. For women in rural areas, abortion clinics may not be accessible, and pharmacies carrying this drug offer the only local access to abortion. Not only does this political battle mark a victory for Republican legislators asserting more control over women’s bodies, but it is also a serious step toward taking away agency over women’s healthcare in general, which could extend beyond abortions. Moreover, we must recognize the reality that when safe abortion procedures are not readily available, the number of women who seek out unsafe and risky procedures may rise — a threat to women we thought Roe v. Wade had eliminated.
Democratic states and legislators are already taking action. California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted on March 6, “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.” Newsom’s statement and economic decision toward Walgreens, at a cost of $54 million, marks an emphatic ideological stand against this Republican agenda. Other Democratic legislators are following suit. For instance, Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is leading a coalition of six Democratic senators questioning where Walgreens will distribute abortion pills. States that have already banned medication abortions will not be receiving distributions of Mifepristone, but states that have not banned medication abortions are also affected by this decision. For example, Alaska and Montana will not be receiving this legal medication for medication-assisted abortion because of Republican interference. In a letter to Walgreens, the coalition of Democratic senators wrote, “The refusal to dispense a medication that is legal and safe to patients in need would be a betrayal of your customers, and your commitment ‘to champion the health and well-being of every community in America.’”
Living in a post-Roe world, the closing of abortion clinics and stopping of abortion procedures in many states have already presented extreme challenges for women seeking healthcare. But Walgreens’ decision has threatened abortion in states that haven’t banned the procedure. Republicans have taken a private healthcare issue and politicized it. We should be worried about other pharmaceutical companies following suit and further putting women at risk of reduced access to abortion.
Recent decisions taken by Republicans and Walgreens are serious steps away from improving access to essential and legal healthcare. Abortion is healthcare, and this political power play fosters male dominance and puts female lives at risk. Though it may feel like we cannot directly influence the decisions of legislators, we do have economic agency. If we boycott Walgreens, it will send a powerful message to legislators and companies about how we feel about their interference in our healthcare. Imagine the political and economic power gained if all people, especially women, refused to shop at Walgreens. Let’s follow Gov. Newsom’s example and boycott Walgreens to stand up to these Republicans and show that we will not stand for this blatant disregard for our healthcare or bodily autonomy. We have a stake in how our healthcare plays out, and we can take economic action to spur a political outcome that returns abortion access to women.