Mifepristone has been used for medication abortion for decades. Why the drug’s future is in doubt and how it got Walgreens into hot water

March 9, 2023, 12:59 PM UTC
A woman shouts while holding a "boycott Duane Reade and Walgreens" sign stands outside a Duane Reade in Union Square on March 8, 2023 in New York City.
Alexi Rosenfeld—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Grandmas are propping up the economy, Patagonia has acquired a female-founded sustainable snack company, and we explain why mifepristone is all over the headlines. Happy Thursday!

– The mifepristone mess. In recent days, you’ve likely heard mifepristone mentioned in the news and in The Broadsheet. The drug—one of two normally prescribed for medication abortion—is used for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., including in states that have drastically restricted access to in-person abortion procedures. Now, two parallel storylines related to the pill are capturing headlines. Let’s break them both down:

  • First, a federal judge is poised to rule on a lawsuit that could block the distribution of the drug. Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Texas-based Trump appointee, will decide a lawsuit brought by an anti-abortion organization called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine. The group is seeking an injunction preventing the distribution of mifepristone, which was approved for nationwide distribution by the Food and Drug Administration two decades ago. 
  • For weeks now, a ruling has been expected. Kacsmaryk has a record as a strong opponent of abortion. His ruling, while likely to pull mifepristone from the market, would be temporary as the case winds its way through the legal system. 

Which brings us to the story of the week: Walgreens. 

  • The pharmacy said last week that it would not distribute medication abortion in states where attorneys general have threatened legal action. That’s 21 Republican-controlled states where the chain would not distribute the drug, including states where abortion remains legal.
  • The announcement comes as major pharmacies figure out how to deal with a January FDA decision to allow pharmacies to dispense the drug in person and by mail with FDA certification. Before, only certified health care providers could prescribe and dispense the drug.
  • Walgreens’ announcement ignited a furor among supporters of abortion rights, who vowed to boycott the chain. 
  • California was the first blue state to respond, with Gov. Gavin Newsom declaring that the state “won’t be doing business” with Walgreens. “All relationships between Walgreens and the state” were under review, he said. Yesterday, he said California will not renew Walgreens’ $54 million contract to fulfill inmates’ prescriptions.
  • Walgreens later attempted to walk back its statement, saying that it “plans to dispense mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so.” 
  • For followers of notable women business leaders, this story has another layer: The CEO of Walgreens is Roz Brewer, one of two Black female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and a much-admired former Starbucks and Sam’s Club executive. Brewer has yet to comment directly on the matter. Another woman-led major pharmacy chain—CVS Health, led by CEO Karen Lynch—has yet to comment at all on its plans; it also received GOP legal threats. 

As the episode plays out, it may prove that on these thorny business and political issues, in which state laws have—to some degree—tied the hands of corporations, CEO leadership only goes so far. 

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Kinsey Crowley. Subscribe here.


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- American grandmas. Grandmothers are coming in to save the day as rising childcare costs push more and more parents to choose between their careers or having children. A recent Harris Poll showed that 42% of working parents rely on grandmothers for childcare, and 92% of Americans believe that grandmas are contributing significantly to the economy. Fortune

- Back to work. Amid high inflation and spiking interest rates, American women are returning to the workforce, gaining more jobs than men in each of the last four months. Women are close to retaking the majority of non-farm jobs in the U.S., which they last held in late 2019 before the pandemic forced 12 million women out of the labor force. Wall Street Journal


- Glass ceilings. Despite progress in lower levels of government, Black women are hitting a glass ceiling as they pursue executive seats. A Black woman has never been a governor and only two have been U.S. senators; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is campaigning to become the third. Experts say Black female candidates have to fundraise early and often to match their opponents from different identity groups. New York Times

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- Results are in. The Economist's glass ceiling index, which measures the role and influence of women in the workplace, shows that Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Norway have topped the list as the best places for working women. That data also shows that countries where fathers take parental leave have smaller earnings gaps and higher employment rates among women. The Economist


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