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Governor Newsom, and Former Top Aide, Come to Blows Over Abortion Pill

California governor, Gavin Newsom, is facing a Homeric battle of wills as his former Chief of Staff joins his opposition on the abortion pill debate.

The decorated chief of staff began exchanging calls with Gavin Newsom’s office shortly after his announcement last week that the state would be severing ties with the pharmacy giant, Walgreens over its recent decision to remove an abortion pill from its stores in states that are majority republican.  

The decision comes as Newsom and fellow California lawmakers have passed and put into action a wide range of measures to ensure the rights to abortion are protected following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  

Speaking with Politico, on March 8th, in response to his swift actions: “This is an attempt to call the question ‘Which side are you on? Whose side are you on?… Are you going to just cower in the face of bullies? Are you going to just roll over?”

However, given California’s deep involvement with Walgreens (Walgreens provides medications not only to many of California’s locals but also to its inmates), and a deadline set for May 1st to renew the $54 million contract with Walgreens, there is time for discussions, compromises, and cooler heads.

Enter Ann O’Leary.  Ann O’Leary’s resume speaks to her savvy, ambition, and wherewithal.  She was a celebrated attorney and crisis manager; served as a senior policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign; and, more recently, served as Newsom’s chief of staff from 2018 to 2020.  

And although they seemingly walked in lockstep with the handling of the pandemic, justice reform, and combating climate change, their differences have become apparent in the wake of this standoff.  

Jarred by the inclusion of the former chief of staff on Walgreens’ calls to governor Newsom’s office, a top advisor had this to say of Newsom’s reaction to O’Leary involvement: “It didn’t sit particularly well with the governor that he had a former top aide of his administration now trying to push back on the policy he’s making,” said one of the people briefed on the calls.”

Representatives for Walgreens argue that they are being unfairly singled out by the state of California, citing their willingness to be decisive as a potential cause for the ruffling of feathers, whereas other pharmaceutical companies have remained mum on the topic of the abortion pill.  Walgreens has also reassured the state that they will continue to provide the pill in states where they can do so legally.


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