No One Knows What Gavin Newsom's Walgreens Tweet Means, Not Even His Own Office
what does it mean that the state of california will no longer "do business" with walgreens?
On Monday, Gavin Newsom tweeted that “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens… We’re done.” This was his reaction the company’s media statements that it won’t distribute mifepristone, an abortion pill, in states whose attorneys general recently objected to the company’s application to sell it, which came on the heels of a January FDA regulation allowing mifepristone to be distributed in brick-and-mortar pharmacies for the first time ever.
At nine million views at the time of this writing, Newsom’s tweet has been celebrated by people online as a victory for women’s rights, and has received extensive coverage by national news media. Thousands of people in the tweet’s replies have thanked him, and hundreds if not literal thousands of people on Reddit seem to think that the tweet represents a boycott of Walgreens and a positive instance of cancel culture.
The problem is, no one actually knows what Newsom’s tweet means — not even Newsom’s own office, which has only given statements that it’s reviewing California’s relationship with Walgreens.
CNN Politics reports that “California will cease all business with Walgreens,” but midway through the piece says “It’s not clear exactly how California will seek to cut ties with Walgreens,” then quotes Newsom’s spokesperson saying that his office is reviewing California’s relationship with the company.
ABC News repeats the text of Newsom’s tweet and adds “a spokesperson for Newsom said the state was ‘reviewing’ its relationship with Walgreens.”
Reuters repeats the text of Newsom’s tweet, adding that the state “refuses” to do business with Walgreens, and then quotes the spokesperson about reviewing “all relationships” California has with Walgreens.
CBS reports that “California shun[ned] Walgreens” over the issue, then relayed another statement from Newsom’s office: "California is reviewing all relationships between Walgreens and the state."
Not only is Newsom’s tweet effectively meaningless (though perhaps that will change), but the entire mifepristone and Walgreens issue seems to have been mischaracterized by nearly everyone involved (though NYT covers it helpfully), including the public. For example, it isn’t clear that any other major retail pharmacy chain other than CVS (e.g. Wal-Mart, Costco) has even applied to sell mifepristone.And unlike Walgreens, CVS has so far declined to share where they plan to sell the drug. Anyone mad at Walgreens for intending to carry the drug in some but not all US states should be demanding CVS make a statement affirming they will sell mifepristone in all states, and should be furious that many other huge pharmacies haven’t even made it clear they plan to sell mifepristone at all.
Mifepristone, the first of two pills women have to take to induce abortion at home, has never been available in brick-and-mortar pharmacies until this year. In 2021, the FDA removed the requirement that the drug be distributed from medical clinics. This allowed women to receive the pills by mail, via telemedicine. Still, this only opened up access to the pill via telemedicine providers — not pharmacies.
The FDA’s January regulation will allow pharmacies to apply to distribute the drug with a prescription, but in states where abortion has been eliminated or severely restricted, any national pharmacy chain is potentially dealing with contradictory regulation between the fed and the state, and selling mifepristone may in effect be a disastrous legal breach that could lead to pharmacists literally being thrown in jail. The letter from the attorneys general basically said as much:
Section 1461 can be enforced not only by the U.S. Attorney General, but also through civil litigation by State Attorneys General... We emphasize that it is our responsibility as State Attorneys General to uphold the law and protect the health, safety, and well-being of women and unborn children in our states...
From the New York Times yesterday:
“Violating the has-to-be-done-by-a-physician requirements in some of these states is punishable by jail,” [a spokesman for Walgreens] said. “In other states, it’s punishable by a civil fine, and in a number of them it’s punishable by licensing sanctions. And so these are restrictions that present real risks to pharmacists.”
The stakes are high for Walgreens… The Republican attorneys general wield powerful weapons, including the ability to press charges against companies or individual pharmacists who dispense the abortion pills or even pull the company’s pharmaceutical license in the state.
And while Walgreens (and again, no other pharmacy) has told many news outlets that they intend to carry the pills wherever it’s legal, there seem to be no major pharmacies on record who have announced their intent to ignore state laws and the attorneys general and sell the drug regardless of local regulations, which is in effect what these companies would need to do to meet the implicit demand of Newsom and everyone baying for the Walgreens’ blood.
In a statement, Rite Aid, which owns Walgreens, told CNN:
Rite Aid is monitoring the latest federal, state, legal and regulatory developments regarding mifepristone dispensing and we will continue to evaluate the Company’s ability to dispense mifepristone in accordance with those developments.
The mifepristone-Newsom-internet-mob drama“reflects the patchwork legal framework that sizable pharmacy chains like Walgreens, which is the second largest in the country, must navigate after last summer’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.” While Walgreen’s media relations and legal teams have been issuing statements and responding to media inquiries for the past week, and its stock had dropped 4 percent at the end of trading on Tuesday — all to clarify its plans to sell distribute a drug that’s unlikely to generate significant revenue — their competitors have made no such effort. Indeed, some may have not even be planning on selling it at all.
Is Newsom’s “boycott” of the only major pharmacy that’s detailing its plans to sell the abortion pill a victory for women? Not sure, but it’s definitely one for Gavin Newsom’s PR team.
Newsom’s office has not responded to my request for comment.
Both Wal-Mart and Costco have not responded to my request for comment.