The Republican party has long positioned itself as a business-friendly organization, and corporate managers and executives have been eager to open up their purses in support of GOP candidates. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has upended that calculation through its ruling on the Dobbs abortion case. The bottom-line hurt has only just begun, and some of the nation’s top retailers are already on the hot seat.
Much of the attention surrounding the Dobbs decision has focused on people who are already pregnant, and rightfully so. Doctors, clinics and other healthcare providers across the country suddenly shuttered their abortion services last Friday in response to state-based restrictions triggered by the Dobbs ruling. Pregnant people who were scheduled for clinical abortions had their world shattered under their feet, along with thousands yet to come.
However, in terms of the general impact on human and civil rights, and the specific impact on U.S. businesses, clinics and providers are only represent one corner of the anti-abortion dragnet.
Now that the freedom to manage one’s own pregnancy has been ripped away in some states but not in others, thousands of pregnant people will travel out-of-state for abortions. That issue alone will ensnare other businesses in the anti-abortion dragnet: That list includes car rental agencies, gas stations, taxis, ride-hailing services, convenience stores, airlines, bus companies and any other commercial transportation operation that can assist travel for a person seeking an abortion.
That’s not even the heart of the problem, though. The real issue is enforcement. Anti-abortion states are already discussing how to stop pregnant people from seeking abortions out-of-state, and they can’t do that without knowing who is traveling while pregnant, and who is not.
They will have to screen, monitor, question and even test every person capable of carrying a pregnancy who is travels from one state to another. Even pregnant travelers who have no intention of terminating their pregnancy are vulnerable to state-sanctioned policing.
Corporate leaders who still think that out-of-state travel benefits will solve the problem should stop and read the fine print: Any woman or girl traveling out of state is subject to enforcement whether or not they are pregnant, as are people who present themselves as female or gender fluid.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the impact on the nation’s leading retail drugstore chains.
Drugstores are already on the anti-abortion radar because they are legally entitled to carry Plan B and other popular over-the-counter emergency contraceptives. The Dobbs ruling will only increase their visibility as other healthcare providers stop dispensing emergency contraceptives.
Emergency contraceptives are not the same thing as the prescription-only “abortion pill.” They are designed to prevent a pregnancy, not to abort one. Nevertheless, over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptives could be threatened by the Dobbs ruling. As anti-abortion advocates start to gear up for a national abortion ban and a clampdown on birth control, some degree of panic buying set in last week.
Among the large chain pharmacies, Rite Aid reported that it has limited purchases of the popular Plan B pill to three per customer. Walmart also reportedly imposed a limit, as did CVS, though CVS has since lifted the restriction.
Walgreens reported that it has not set a limit on Plan B. In any case, if the pills are not available in-store there are online options. Walgreens, for one, is not ready to cede emergency contraceptive sales to Internet-based companies like Amazon, Instacart and the startup GoPuff, or to the growing number of telehealth firms such as Wisp, Nurx and Stix.
As of this writing, the Walgreens online store advertises that Plan B One-Step can be ordered for about $50 and delivered within one to two hours, depending on the shipping option.
“Plan B One-Step is available for any woman who needs it with no age restriction,” the listing reads, adding enthusiastically that Plan B is easy to find and has been purchased by millions of women.
CVS goes even farther. In addition to the selling points noted by Walgreens, its bulleted list of items includes this observation: “About seven out of every eight women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant after taking Plan B One-Step.”
That sort of language is all but certain to incite anti-abortion activists who believe that all birth control is just another form of baby-killing. That could explain why Rite Aid is much more cautious in its online marketing. The company mainly emphasizes that Plan B should not be used as birth control. To reinforce the point, a short, peppy video on the site portrays Plan B as a backup solution for people whose regular birth control failed.
Whether emergency contraceptives remain widely available or not, pharmacies face a bigger threat from the Dobbs decision. In terms of enforcement, anyone who so much as breathes in the family planning aisle is a potential target for monitoring, whether they’re perusing condoms, lubricants or home pregnancy tests.
It also mean that in-store clinics such as CVS’s “Minute Clinics” are liable to be monitored.
Back in 2019, CVS followed its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna to announce that it would reduce retail space and expand its HealthHub service at 1,500 of its retail stores. The goal was to cement its position more firmly in the vanguard of pharmacy companies working to improve overall health and wellbeing, not simply treat illnesses after they arise.
Even without state- or community-sanctioned pregnancy police looking over their shoulders, healthcare providers of all sorts already have their hands full dealing with the medical misinformation and outright lies about abortion and contraceptives peddled by bogus “crisis pregnancy centers.” The Dobbs ruling is all but certain to layer on the misdirection with the blessing of state based anti-abortion legislation, while also placing pharmacy-based clinicians under the watchful eye of the pregnancy police.
In another concerning development, the Dobbs ruling has provided considerable state-sanctioned oxygen to organized white supremacist groups, which have a long history of linkage with the anti-abortion movement.
Since the violent insurrection of January 6, 2021, white supremacist organizations have begun instigating violence at Pride events, and some observers recognize their footprint in the rising tide of violence among anti-abortion activists.
If CVS has exposed its own community clinic model to the risk of violence, it has been feeding the beast all along. Last week the independent journalist Judd Legum of the newsletter Popular Information cited CVS among the top 13 corporate donors to anti-abortion political action committees.
U.S. business leaders who thought they could buy security for their bottom-line interests at the cost of human rights for everyone with a uterus certainly did sow this wind. Now that the whirlwind has come down upon the entire nation, neither they nor anybody else should be surprised.
Image credit: Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.
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