Boycott Strategy: CVS & Walgreens
by Rachel MacNair
Now that the United States Food and Drug Administration allows the abortion pill to be dispensed by ordinary pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens are both seeking certification to do so. This would make them the largest chain of abortion providers in the country, surpassing Planned Parenthood. It would further normalize the killing of babies. It would physically harm women while pretending otherwise. And unless conscience provisions are put in place, it may conscript unwilling pharmacy employees into participation in abortions.
Charles Cunningham Boycott was a retired British army captain who managed an estate in Ireland for an English earl in the 1870s. The Land League told him he must reduce rents; there had been bad harvests, and another famine was a real danger. Captain Boycott responded by trying to serve eviction notices.
The Land League urged tenants to stop communicating with those who refused their demand for lower rents. Captain Boycott was the first person against whom they used this tactic. He had to bring workers in from Ulster to work under guard to harvest the crops. But the Land Act of 1881 set fair-rent tribunals, so conditions eased.
The name “boycott” took off as a word to mean non-cooperation with all kinds of things. It usually means not buying a certain product or not buying from a particular merchant. Those who want to make money selling the product need to change the way they act in order to be able to sell. All kinds of causes can be helped in this way.
It’s a powerful tool, but not used all that often. That’s because, to do it right, usually an awful lot of work in a major campaign is involved.
I was active as a teenager when the United Farmworkers (UFW) had a major campaign to boycott head lettuce and grapes. I’m sure there were individuals who opposed UFW and made a point of buying those products, but they weren’t well organized and were surely overwhelmed by the number of people observing the boycott.
On the other hand, the abortion issue has a huge number of people for and against who are all well organized. Both sides are inclined to counter any effort that the other side makes.
A while back there were abortion defenders who were upset about some law passed in Idaho, so they called for a boycott of Idaho potatoes. This was remarkably easy for pro-lifers to counter. Having potatoes instead of rice at dinner for the sake of the cause is easy. Buy a large bag of potatoes, donate it to your local soup kitchen – your charity dollar has done double duty, and you didn’t even spend very much.
So the first rule of deciding on a boycott is: is there an opposition that can simply undo it by buying more of the product?
For CVS and Walgreens, it would be much harder to make a big point of using them for those who aren’t already doing so. It can be done, but mainly, large groups would simply continue to use them as they do already, and those that don’t already have good reasons (such as location) for not doing so. So having abortion defenders try to counter the boycott by buying more than they otherwise would from these stores is probably not as much of a problem. But we can be sure there would be some effort, and this must be taken into account.
I’ve heard people consider the idea of a boycott against a business that gives money to Planned Parenthood. The likelihood of a splurge in buying to counter the boycott is the first problem. The question of why and how to pick one when there are so many is another. But mainly, the question is whether the considerable effort required to do a successful boycott is a better expenditure of time and resources than any number of other strategies that have a greater immediate impact, especially for directly preventing abortions.
The abortion business and philosophy has its tentacles so deep in society that trying to non-cooperate with it completely might not be possible even for a hermit living off the grid in the woods. The same thing is true of the military. Killing people as a problem-solver is so deeply ingrained that efforts to be pure aren’t workable. We can be conscious in our purchasing decisions, but that’s a separate practice from an organized, narrowly focused boycott.
For CVS and Walgreens, however, we have:
- Two identifiable businesses that can in fact usually be avoided with effort.
- A clear-cut reason that goes beyond funding things: they would be actually participating in abortion, and compelling employees to do so.
- This is a new way of distributing abortion drugs, and nipping things in the bud is always easier than dealing with long-established practices. Abortion itself is long-established, and the drugs have now been used for years; this will make it harder. Yet this form of arranging abortions is new.
Long-term Goal: Get CVS and Walgreens out of the abortion pill business. A boycott would be one of many strategies that include letters and phone calls, picketing stores and shareholder meetings, and shareholder resolutions.
Short-term Goal: See that the amount of money they lose for taking on the abortion pill is several times greater than the amount they gain. This removes a profit motive, which is the main motive they have. It might serve as a deterrent for others, and it helps maintain or increase the stigma of doing abortions.
Remember, in the early days under Roe v. Wade, abortions were available at all kinds of hospitals and doctors’ offices in addition to clinics. Over the course of time and many protests, abortion practice got consolidated down to mainly clinics. The same dynamic can be applied again.
There would have to be local groups that make the case locally, because they’re the ones that know what alternatives there are.
For pharmacies, those in the states where abortion is already banned will be able to point to local pharmacies. The CVS and Walgreens won’t be offering the abortion pill there either, since it’s illegal, but their stores can still be boycotted and picketed in those states.
In the states where abortion is widespread, the local pharmacies may not be much help; if they offer the pills also, then it’s not much of an alternative. But perhaps Catholic, Baptist, and mom-and-pop pro-life health facilities, among others, can be counted on to help with the pharmacy needs of those boycotting CVS and Walgreens. Knowledge of what those are in each locale would need to be included in the messaging encouraging local people to boycott.
For everything else the stores sell, other alternatives can be mentioned. I’ve already purchased two rolls of packing tape from the UPS store in order to not buy those at CVS any more. Some of this will just be people noticing where else they can get specific items like that. Anything that’s a bigger deal might need some suggestion of alternatives as well.
Large institutions include hospitals and clinics, colleges and universities, churches and other houses of worship. These are not only concentrated places to get the word out quickly to lots of people, but they make large purchasing decisions themselves. Persuading an institution to use an alternative for their purchases – and a lot of Catholic and evangelical groups, among others, are likely to do so – makes a large impact in one fell swoop.
And of course the reason for not patronizing them needs to be communicated to CVS and Walgreens frequently. Their central national numbers are designed for customer service, not for this kind of feedback. This is therefore more likely to work better on the local level, because having it happen in various parts of the country will be the most impressive.
A few years back, abortion defenders were offended at a couple of corporations and called for a boycott. I went to their website to see how they were organizing it. They weren’t. That and their Facebook page were full of kvetching, ain’t-it-awful rhetoric about the companies. Nobody was doing anything practical to actually get a boycott going. So of course one never got going.
The Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) has already called for a boycott , which fits with their style. However, this is obvious enough that probably several groups will call for it.
But it will only work (and it really needs to work) if many groups on the local level hop in and find the alternatives and get the word out effectively.
Meanwhile, I do encourage everyone to at least boycott these two companies as long as they are still seeking, or actually doing, the dispensing of abortion pills. More effectively, of course, let your local branches know your displeasure – the more who do so, the better. Stay tuned for more organized opposition coming – and if you’re so moved, help organize that opposition. Just remember that to actually have an impact, that opposition needs to think strategically and put the work in.
For more on noncooperation with Planned Parenthood, see our website: