The Republican Party has long positioned itself as a business-friendly organization, and business leaders and executives are eager to open their scholarships to support GOP candidates. Now, the United States Supreme Court has reversed that reckoning with its decision in the Dobbs abortion case. The financial crisis has only just begun and some of the country’s biggest retailers are already in the hot seat.
The real impact of the Dobbs decision
Much of the attention surrounding the Dobbs decision has focused on people who are already pregnant, and rightfully so. Doctors, clinics and other health care providers across the country suddenly shut down their abortion services last Friday in response to state-imposed restrictions triggered by the Dobbs ruling. Pregnant women who were to undergo clinical abortions saw their worlds shattered beneath their feet, along with thousands more to come.
However, in terms of the general impact on human and civil rights, and the specific impact on American businesses, clinics and providers represent only one corner of the anti-abortion net.
Now that the freedom to manage one’s own pregnancy has been wrested away in some states but not others, thousands of pregnant women will travel out of state for abortions. This problem alone will trap other businesses in the anti-abortion net: this list includes rental car agencies, gas stations, taxis, ride-sharing services, convenience stores, airlines, bus and any other commercial transport operation that can help travel for a person wishing to have an abortion.
That’s not even the core of the problem, however. The real problem is the application. Anti-abortion states are already discussing how to prevent pregnant women from having out-of-state abortions, and they can’t do that without knowing who travels while pregnant and who doesn’t.
They will have to screen, monitor, interview and even test anyone capable of carrying a pregnancy who travels from one state to another. Even pregnant travelers who have no intention of terminating their pregnancies are vulnerable to state-sanctioned policing.
Business leaders who still think 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 the application of the law, whether pregnant or not, as do people who present themselves as female or gender fluid.
Retail pharmacies in the crosshairs
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the impact on the country’s major retail pharmacy chains.
Pharmacies are already on the anti-abortion radar because they are legally allowed to offer Plan B and other popular over-the-counter emergency contraceptives. The Dobbs decision will only increase their visibility as other healthcare providers stop distribution emergency contraceptives.
Emergency contraceptives are not the same as the “abortion pill”. They are designed to prevent pregnancy, not to abort it. Nevertheless, access to over-the-counter emergency contraceptives could be threatened by the Dobbs ruling. As anti-abortion advocates begin to prepare for a nationwide abortion ban and birth control crackdown, a degree of panic buying has taken hold in the past week.
Among the major drugstore chains, Rite Aid reported having limited purchases of the popular Plan B three pill per customer. Walmart also reportedly imposed a limit, as did CVS, although CVS has since lifted the restriction.
Walgreens reported that it did not set a limit on Plan B. In any case, if the pills are not available in stores, there are online options. Walgreens, for its part, is not ready to cede sales of emergency contraceptives to Internet-based companies like Amazon, Instacart and startup GoPuff, or to the growing number of telehealth companies such as Wisp, Nurx and Stix.
As of this writing, the Walgreens online store advertises that Plan B One-Step can be ordered for around $50 and delivered in one to two hours, depending on the shipping option.
“Plan B One-Step is available for any woman who needs it with no age restrictions,” the listing reads, adding excitedly that Plan B is easy to find and has been purchased by millions of women.
CVS goes one step further. In addition to the selling points noted by Walgreens, its bulleted list of items includes this observation: “About seven out of eight women who got pregnant will not get pregnant after taking Plan B One-Step.
This kind of language is almost certain to incite anti-abortion activists who believe that all birth control is just another form of baby murder. This could explain why Rite Aid is much more cautious in its online marketing. The company mainly insists that Plan B should not be used as birth control. To reinforce this point, a short, energetic video on the site describes Plan B as a fallback for people whose regular birth control has failed.
Rethink This Community Pharmacy Clinic, STAT
Whether or not emergency contraceptives remain widely available, pharmacies are more at risk from the Dobbs decision. In terms of enforcement, anyone who breathes in the family planning aisle is a potential target for surveillance, whether they’re consulting condoms, lubricants, or home pregnancy tests.
This also means that in-store clinics such as CVS’s “Minute Clinics” are subject to scrutiny.
In 2019, CVS followed its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna to announce it would reduce retail space and expand its HealthHub service to 1,500 of its retail stores. The goal was to more firmly cement its position at the forefront of pharmaceutical companies working to improve overall health and well-being, not just to treat illnesses after they arise.
Even without state-sanctioned or community-sanctioned pregnancy policing looking over their shoulders, healthcare providers of all kinds already have their hands full to deal with the medical misinformation and outright lies on abortion and contraceptives peddled by fakes “crisis pregnancy centers.” The Dobbs decision is almost certain to overlap misdirection with the blessing of state-based anti-abortion legislation, while placing pharmacy 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 bonding history with the anti-abortion movement.
Since the violent January 6, 2021, uprising, white supremacist organizations have begun inciting violence at Pride events, and some observers recognize their footprint in the rising wave of violence among anti-abortion activists.
If CVS has exposed its own community clinic model to the risk of violence, it has always fed the beast. Last week, freelance journalist Judd Legum of the Popular Information newsletter cited CVS as one of the 13 top corporate donors to anti-abortion political action committees.
American business leaders who thought they could buy security for their interests at the expense of human rights for all people with a womb certainly sowed that wind. Now that the storm has swept across the nation, neither they nor anyone else should be surprised.
Image credit: Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash