Boycott Walgreens For Bowing To Right Wing Anti-Abortion Pressure
Consumers around the country are being asked to stop shopping at Walgreens stores after the mega-drug retailer buckled under right wing political pressure and agreed to stop selling Mifepristone, the most common abortion medication in the U.S.
After the Supreme Court ruling on abortions, right wing extremists have continued efforts to intimidate pharmacies into refusing to dispense a medication that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and deemed safe and effective more than two decades ago.
The drug chain, the second largest in the U.S., employs 325,000 people and had a net income in 2022 of $90.124 billion. The company is owned by Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., a British-American-Swiss holding company headquartered in Deerfield, Ill.
The company is no stranger to controversy and accusations of law breaking as it has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements in past years after lawsuits ranging from discriminating against African Americans to adding to the deadly, nationwide opioid epidemic.
Last week, filmmaker Michael Moore joined in the call for consumers to look elsewhere for drugs after he accused the pharmacy chain of “caving in to threats from the extremist anti-abortion/Forced Birth movement.”
“This decision by Walgreens to further cement women’s status as second-class citizens must be met forcefully by each and every one of us,” Moore wrote. “Every day of our silence is another day of you and I enabling this bigotry and misogyny.”
Ultraviolet, a non-profit women’s advocacy group, also is circulating a petition signed so far by 70,000 people calling on all U.S. pharmacies to provide medication abortion to all customers.
The Democratic governor of California announced the state will end contracts with Walgreens while 20 Democratic governors have formed the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, a coalition to protect and expand abortion access in their states.
It remains to be seen if consumers will follow Moore’s lead and will stop patronizing their neighborhood pharmacy and shop elsewhere for their over-the-counter reading glasses, greeting cards, prescription drugs and much more. Smaller, community pharmacies may be faced with a Gordion knot if they are pressured not to sell as they may not be able to survive losing the revenues from the sale of Mifepristone.
Historically, consumer boycotts have a mixed record. The boycott of the public buses in Birmingham, Ala., eventually lead to widespread laws against segregation and the boycott of South Africa led to the end of apartheid.
But some boycotts fell flat. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford was targeted for his ruthless, anti-Semitism and Ford’s somehow prospered anyway. Likewise, a boycott aimed at Chick-fil-A for its anti-LGBTQ policies, hasn’t stopped chicken-loving customers from waiting in long lines for their sandwiches or at Hobby Lobby where hobbyists flock for their yarn and model boats, regardless of consumer complaints about the company’s policies toward the LGBTQ community. And more recently, sales of Harry Potter games are booming despite calls to boycott the sales because of claims that author J.K. Rowling is anti LGBTQ.
Last week, Walgreens said that it would no longer sell Mifepristone, the first of two medications necessary for a medication abortion, in 20, Republican states. The drug conglomerate announced its decision after attorneys general in the 20 states sent a letter to Walgreens and CVS threatening legal action if the retailers sell abortion pills, even though some of the states do not prohibit abortions or the sale of abortion medication. Walgreens said it would not sell the medication in the 20 states while CVS said it has not decided on the issue.
“These state laws reflect not only our commitment to protecting the lives and dignity of children, but also of women. 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,” the attorneys general wrote. “Part of that responsibility includes ensuring that companies like yours are fully informed of the law so that harm does not come to our citizens.”
Walgreens was the only company to formally respond to the attorneys general letter. The company responded that it “does not intend to dispense Mifepristone within your state and does not intend to ship Mifepristone into your state from any of our pharmacies.”
The FDA first approved Mifepristone in 2000 as a method to terminate early pregnancies, but the pill has long had strict regulations around how it could be dispensed to patients. Medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had long argued that the regulations lacked a scientific basis and were rooted in politics.
Mifepristone is approved to end a pregnancy through the 10th week. It is used in combination with another pill called misoprostol. Mifepristone stops the pregnancy from continuing and misoprostol induces contractions that empty the uterus. Mifepristone also is prescribed to women who are experiencing a miscarriage as the drug helps to clear the uterus of any debris from a failed pregnancy that could lead to serious infection and potentially fatal sepsis.
In January, the FDA updated a rule on medication abortion pills and expanded access to retail pharmacies like Walgreens. Previously, the pills could only be dispensed by certified doctors, clinics or a few mail-order pharmacies. The January update required pharmacies to complete a certification process.
The FDA does not recommend buying Mifepristone online or transporting it from a foreign country as that would bypass safeguards specifically designed to protect women’s health.
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to the Walgreens decision by announcing that the state would no longer be doing business with Walgreens. Shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. fell 1.8 percent after Newsom’s announcement.
Most of the 20 states that wrote to Walgreens bar abortions while others may face legal challenges or are at various stages of restricting access to abortion. The states on the letter include Missouri, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Of the states, abortion remains legal in Alaska, Montana, Iowa and Florida.
Walgreens has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and settlements.
In March 2008, Walgreens settled a lawsuit for $24 million with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged the company discriminated against African Americans. The settlement was split between the 10,000 African-American employees of the company.
In June 2008, Walgreens agreed to pay $35 million to the federal government, 42 states, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico after the company admitted to drug fraud and “switching dosage forms on three medications without doctor approvals in order to boost profits.”
The same year, Walgreens agreed to pay $35 million to the U.S. and 42 states and Puerto Rico for overcharging state Medicaid programs by filling prescriptions with more expensive dosage forms of ranitidine, a generic form of Zantac, and fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac.
In 2010 Walgreens stopped accepting Medicaid in Washington state, leaving its one million Medicaid recipients unable to get their prescriptions filled at these 121 stores.
On April 20, 2012, Walgreens agreed to pay $7.9 million in a settlement related to allegations of violations of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act regarding beneficiaries of federal health care programs.
In January 2019, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. agreed to pay more than $269 million to settle federal and state lawsuits that accused the corporation of overbilling federal healthcare programs.
In September 2012, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) accused Walgreens of endangering public safety and barred the company from shipping oxycodone and other controlled drugs from its Jupiter, Fla., distribution center. The DEA said that Walgreens failed to maintain proper controls to ensure it didn’t dispense drugs to addicts and drug dealers.
The DEA also said that six of Walgreens’ Florida pharmacies ordered in excess of a million oxycodone pills a year. In contrast, in 2011 the average pharmacy in the U.S. ordered 73,000 oxycodone tablets a year, according to the DEA. Walgreens was fined $80 million, the largest fine in the history of the Controlled Substances Act at that time.
In November 2021, a federal jury found that Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, “had substantially contributed to” the opioid crisis. In May 2022, Walgreens agreed to pay a settlement of $683 million to the state of Florida concerning opioid sales.
The New York State Attorney General announced in April 2016 that a settlement was reached in the complaint that Walgreens used misleading advertising and overcharged consumers. Walgreens was fined $500,000 in penalties, fees and costs. A judge in Kansas City, Mo., fined Walgreens $309,fine for pricing discrepancies in 2015.
In December 2012, a judge ordered Walgreens to pay $16.57 million to settle a lawsuit claiming that more than 600 stores were illegally dumping hazardous waste and unlawfully disposing of customer records containing confidential medical information.
A Santa Clara (California) County Superior Court judge allowed Walgreens to pay $2.25 million in January 2018 to resolve a consumer protection lawsuit alleging that the company sold expired baby food, infant formula, and over-the-counter drugs. The suit also alleged that Walgreens violated state law by charging more than the lowest posted or advertised price for items.
In September 2018, Walgreens agreed to pay $34.5 million to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation for misleading investors on financial targets. The SEC alleged that former CEO Greg Wasson and then-CFO Wade Miquelon acted “negligently” in giving financial estimates.
In January 2019, Walgreens paid $269.2 million for two separate counts of defrauding the federal and 39 state governments in over-billing schemes.
In February 2020, Walgreens agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a consumer protection lawsuit accusing the company of placing people’s health at risk by permitting an unlicensed person to work as a pharmacist without an adequate background check. The person had handled more than 745,000 prescriptions, including filling more than 100,000 prescriptions for controlled substances.
In March 2021, Walgreens settled a class action suit for $4.5 million. Walgreens was accused of wage theft and labor law violations of its employees in California between 2010 and 2017, including that Walgreens “rounded down employees’ hours on their timecards, required employees to pass through security checks before and after their shift without compensating them for time worked, and failed to pay premium wages to employees who were denied legally required meal breaks.”
In August 2022, a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio, awarded $650 million to Lake County and Trumbull County in a suit that included CVS and Walmart. Lawyers representing the counties said the companies were responsible for $3.3 billion in damages. Two other companies, Rite Aid and Giant Eagle, were also sued by the counties but settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.
The word “boycott” comes from Capt. Charles Cunningham Boycott, who retired from the army in 1880 to become a land agent in Ireland. Boycott raised the rent on his tenants, but they later refused to work. The mailman stopped bringing mail and businesses in the area wouldn’t accept Cunningham’s money. His business suffered and he was forced to leave. But his epitaph of boycotts lived on.
The Ethical Consumer Research Association Ltd, reported ongoing boycotts of dozens of company and countries as a way to combat human rights abuses and to force companies to change their ways.
Boycotts have been used to stop investment in companies like Barclays that use excessive fossil fuels; Ahava Dead Sea for its “involvement in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land;” Amazon for its “outrageous tax avoidance” and a “poor record when it comes to workers’ rights and environmental impacts;” an effort by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to stop the networks from airing the Crufts dog show in England, after revelations about ill and inbred animals; TrueUSA is boycotting Fox News because of the company’s “hate speech and fake news;” and the UK Boycott Turkey Campaign is going after Koç Holding AS for its support of the Turkish regime and the company’s opposition to Kurdish and Turkish civil society groups; among many other causes.
Historically, boycotts have long been the preferred tool of the disenfranchised.
During the Great Depression era, African Americans held “Buy Where You Can Work” campaigns that boycotted companies that refused to hire Black people. The boycott pressed for work for African Americans during the early years of the Great Depression and helped to construct the foundations of the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
One of the most successful campaigns for the abolitionist movement in Great Britain in the late-1700s was “The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” The effort encouraged British people, especially women, not to buy or use goods produced by enslaved people in the West Indies, particularly sugar. Around 300,000 people boycotted sugar and sales dropped dramatically, adding to the growing effort to ban slavery.
In the early 20th Century, Henry Ford was a global figure, having introduced the $5 workday, assembly line and Model T.
Ford also formed the Dearborn Publishing Company and in 1919, he soon bought the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper. Under Ford, the Independent became notorious for its vicious attacks on Jews, notably a serialized, four-volume tome called, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” published on May 22, 1920. Every week for nearly two years, the paper published articles that assailed Jews for being sneaky and treacherous and conspiring to control the global financial system, a common Jewish stereotype. Ford accused Jews of scheming to dominate such American industries as Hollywood, farming and liquor distribution.
The four volumes were distributed across Europe and North America during the rise of fascism in the 1920s and ’30s, and influenced the future rulers of Nazi Germany.
Ford’s anti-Jewish campaign provoked protests and a boycott of Ford Motor automobiles in the 1920s. Ford apologized and closed the paper in 1927. Sales of Ford automobiles were not noticeably effected and copies of “The International Jew” spread widely, to this day, influencing generations of anti-Semites. The tome is still available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart.