Mailing abortion pills could break law, Republican AGs tell pharmacies

FILE PHOTO: Used boxes of Mifepristone pills, the first drug used in a medical abortion, fill a trash can at Alamo Women's Clinic in New Mexico

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - A group of 20 Republican state attorneys general on Wednesday told Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and CVS Health Corp that they risk running afoul of federal and state law if they dispense the abortion drug mifepristone by mail.

The move, announced by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, comes weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time allowed retail pharmacies to dispense mifepristone, including by mail, provided they are certified under special safety rules for the drug.

Walgreens and CVS have said they intend to become certified and dispense the drug in states where abortion is legal, though neither has yet done so.

"We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program, however we fully understand that we may not be able to dispense mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program," Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman said in an email.

CVS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of U.S. abortions, has drawn increasing attention since the U.S. Supreme Court last June overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had recognized abortion as a constitutional right nationwide.

Mifepristone, used in combination with another drug, misoprostol, is approved for abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

In their letters to the pharmacies Wednesday, the attorneys general said that the Comstock Act, a 19th century federal law, expressly prohibits using the mail to send or receive any drug that will “be used or applied for producing abortion.”

The Biden administration earlier this month said mailing mifepristone would not violate that law if the sender does not intend for it to be used unlawfully.

The attorneys general called this interpretation "bizarre" and warned that mailing the drug could violate some states' laws.

Mifepristone is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits. Anti-abortion activists are asking a Texas judge to revoke its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would effectively pull it off the market. Meanwhile, generic mifepristone manufacturer GenBioPro and a doctor have challenged restrictions on the drug in West Virginia and North Carolina, respectively.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Leslie Adler)