From fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg to Twitter co-founder and Square chief executive Jack Dorsey, more than 180 CEOs signed an open letter opposing recent state abortion bans. They wrote that restrictions on abortion access threaten the economic stability of their employees and customers, and make it harder to build a diverse workforce and recruit talent.
The letter, which appeared Monday as a full-page ad in the New York Times, marks the business community’s latest foray into a polarizing societal issue. The chief executives of Bloomberg News, Atlantic Records, Yelp and Warby Parker, among others, have aligned themselves with such groups as Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The move also comes nearly four weeks after Alabama signed off on the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. Other states, including Georgia, have adopted or pursued similar legislation.
“As anti-choice politicians are escalating attacks on these fundamental freedoms, we encourage the entire business community to join us in protecting access to reproductive health care in the critical months and years to come,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement.
Georgia’s law, signed last month by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which typically occurs near the six-week mark and before many women even know they are pregnant. Alabama banned virtually all abortions in the state — including for victims of rape and incest. Abortion opponents want the laws to build on a broader state-by-state strategy to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to take a new look at Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Several industries have moved to exert pressure on states that limit access to abortion. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood — including Walt Disney and WarnerMedia — have suggested they might pull their business from Georgia if its new law survives legal challenge. Filmmaking is a $9.5 billion industry in Georgia that created more than 92,000 jobs last year, according to a McKinsey study.
But even among the law’s staunch objectors, there isn’t a clear consensus on how companies should respond. Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race last year, is urging Hollywood to keep its business in the state, saying a boycott would only strip working-class people of their jobs with no guarantee it would reverse the new law.
Instead, Abrams and other business leaders are launching a “#StayAndFight” campaign encouraging Hollywood powerhouses to put their money behind political groups and the legal fight. Film industry workers are also organizing against any potential boycott and are raising money for a challenge to the law by the ACLU.
Businesses that threaten to take their business elsewhere often have the sharpest influence, said Timothy Coombs, a corporate communications expert at Texas A&M University. There may be an initial debate about leaving a country or state altogether, or trying to “change the system from the inside.”
Coombs cited companies that cut ties with Indiana over a 2015 law, signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that could have made it easier for religious conservatives to deny service to gay couples. At the time, Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, said he would cancel all company events in the state. Jeremy Stoppelman, the founder of Yelp, said that “it is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination.”
“To say, ‘Oh, we’re going to stay and engage,’ that’s usually pretty hollow,” Coombs said. “To say, ‘Okay, we’re going to boycott,’ companies need to know that most of their stakeholders are going to support that position.”