Activists protest FDA abortion pill policy at Michigan pharmacies

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

At least 30 anti-abortion activists gathered Saturday afternoon at various pharmacies in Michigan to protest the Food and Drug Administration's recent decision to allow certified pharmacies to dispense the abortion pill when prescribed by a certified prescriber.

South Lyon resident Monica Miller helped organize a protest of 15 people outside a CVS on Five Mile Road in Livonia with the Stop Abortion RX group and called the FDA's decision to allow certified pharmacies to dispense the drug "irresponsible."

"I think it's reckless and it certainly is an attack on the sacred value of human life when all is said and done. ... It normalizes the abortion practice," Miller, 69, said.

Miller hopes people will boycott national pharmacy chains that become certified dispensers of mifepristone and misoprostol.

Mifepristone, taken in a regimen with misoprostol, is commonly known as the "abortion pill" and can be prescribed through 10 weeks gestation to safely end an intrauterine pregnancy, according to the FDA. Brand name mifepristone, otherwise known as Mifeprex, was first approved by the FDA in 2000 and a generic version of the drug was approved in 2019.

"We would hope that under the pressure of a boycott, these pharmaceutical corporations will say 'okay, we're out and we're getting out of the abortion business,'" Miller said.

The Livonia protest was one of several targeting pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens across Michigan. Others took place in Wyandotte, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Fremont, Lapeer, East Lansing and Traverse City.

Walgreens told The News they intend to become a certified pharmacy to dispense mifepristone under the mifepristone REMS Program but are not dispensing it yet.

"We fully understand that we may not be able to dispense Mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program," Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman said in an email.

CVS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many protesters Saturday, like Sarah Burchart, said they believe aborting a fetus is ending a human life. The 30-year-old Novi resident was concerned about the FDA's decision and worried that there would not be enough oversight of abortions at home.

"It's really sad not only because of the life of the unborn being lost, but I think it'll be dangerous for women as far as it's less regulation," Burchart said. "(Taking) the pill without any sort of oversight or anything, that could lead to some really dangerous situations."

People assemble at a CVS Pharmacy at 5 Mile and Newburgh Roads in Livonia on Saturday afternoon, February 4, 2023, to protest pharmacies beginning to dispense chemical abortion drugs.

Both brand name and generic mifepristone are available under a shared system risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS), the FDA says. The administration reviewed the mifepristone REMS program in 2021 and decided to modify it to reduce the burden on the healthcare delivery system.

Modifications to the program were announced on Jan. 3, 2023, and allow mifepristone to be dispensed "by a certified pharmacy on a prescription issued by a certified prescriber," according to the FDA.

Mifepristone can be dispensed in-person or by mail and pharmacies must complete a pharmacy agreement form to become certified dispensers.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that had previously enshrined the right to an abortion in the Constitution, several states began to enact abortion bans.

A federal lawsuit in Texas challenging the FDA's approval of mifepristone in 2000 could prompt a temporary removal of the drug from the market and a decision is expected soon.

"There are more than 20 years of data demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of medication abortion using Mifepristone," president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan Paula Thornton Greear said in a statement.

"But before this rule change, patients were still limited in how they could obtain the medication after an appointment with their health care provider, and telehealth patients faced special barriers, either having to still travel to a physical health center or wait to receive the medication by mail. Now, patients will be able to visit their local pharmacy without delay," Greear said.

Since the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion access has become a "national crisis," according to Greear. The FDA's new rule allowing certified pharmacies to dispense abortion medication will help expand access to more people, especially those living in poverty and rural areas, she said.

"It’s unfortunate – but not at all surprising – that anti-abortion activists are turning their sights on pharmacies," Greear said in a statement. "We are sorry for the countless Michiganders who will now be faced with this same kind of harassment while simply trying to visit their local retail pharmacy this weekend. We hope Michigan’s pharmacies stand strong in their resolve to fulfill prescriptions for the customers who rely on them, both now and in the future."

Previously, mifepristone could only be administered at a doctor’s office, hospital, or health center from a pre-registered healthcare provider, according to Planned Parenthood.

Misoprostol could be taken anywhere up to 48 hours after mifepristone, allowing people to end pregnancies at home or in other comfortable settings. The in-person requirement for the pill was eliminated in 2021 when the FDA announced that taking the drug at home did not result in increased safety complications.