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Senate Democrats press Walgreens and other stores on new medication abortion policy

In letters first shared with NBC News, the senators also wrote to Albertsons, Costco, Kroger and Walmart expressing frustration that they have not said where they stand on selling abortion pills.

Nearly 20 Democratic senators are calling on Walgreens to provide more details about its recently announced plans to restrict access to abortion pills in certain states and pressing other major chains to make it clear where they stand on the issue.

In a letter first shared with NBC News, 17 Senate Democrats asked Walgreens to provide the “strongest possible” access to the pills and clearly communicate its abortion drug policies to customers in the wake of its decision not to sell the pills in several states where abortion is legal and illegal.

"At a time of great confusion about abortion access, your company has done the disservice of adding to it," the senators wrote in a letter led by Patty Murray of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

"While we are well aware of threatening letters you received with regard to the distribution of mifepristone in certain states, the response to those pressures was unacceptable and appeared to yield to these threats—ignoring the critical need to ensure patients can get this essential health care wherever possible,” the senators added.

Walgreens announced its decision this month after it came under pressure from a group of Republican attorneys general who said in a letter that it could face legal consequences if it sold abortion medication in their states. The attorneys general sent similar letters to CVS, Rite Aid, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger and Walmart.

Stabenow said in a statement Tuesday: “In no way, shape or form should businesses deny legal health care to women who have the right to access this vital medication. All businesses should follow the FDA certification process and fully comply with applicable state and federal law.”

Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman responded in a statement saying: "We want to be very clear about what our position has always been: Walgreens plans to dispense Mifepristone in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so. Once we are certified by the FDA, we will dispense this medication consistent with federal and state laws."

"Providing legally approved medications to patients is what pharmacies do, and is rooted in our commitment to the communities in which we operate," he added. "We intend to respond to the Senators."

The senators asked Walgreens to reply to their letter by March 21.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced last week that the state will not renew its multimillion-dollar contract with Walgreens as a result of its new policy.

In January, the FDA announced it would broaden the availability of medication abortion by allowing pharmacies to dispense the pills directly to patients in person or through mail delivery for the first time. Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid announced they planned to sell the drugs shortly after the FDA rule change.

“Medication abortion is how most women across our country get abortion care, and it’s absolutely critical patients can access this safe, FDA-approved drug without being forced to jump through medically-unnecessary hoops or drain their bank accounts to travel hundreds of miles,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday.

Many of the Democrats who signed the letter to Walgreens also signed on to letters applauding CVS’ and Rite Aid’s plans to seek certification to dispense medication abortion. They urged the two companies to offer clear guidelines on how they plan to dispense the pills and to “not cause further confusion or undue alarm.”

Senators expressed their frustration in letters that Albertsons, Costco, Kroger and Walmart have not announced whether their policies going forward include selling abortion pills.