Why Aren’t Corporations Defending Reproductive Rights?
By Martha Plimpton
“To my fellow theatre writers and producers: As you no doubt know, the state of North Carolina has recently passed a reprehensible and discriminatory law. I feel that it is very important that any state that passes such a law suffer economic and cultural consequences, partly because it is deserved and partly to discourage other states from following suit.”
— Tony-award winning composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz.
“There’s a sorry situation in the United States, which is essentially that poor women don’t have choice. Women of means do. They will, always. Let’s assume Roe v. Wade were overruled and we were going back to each state for itself, well, any woman who could travel from her home state to a state that provides access to abortion, and those states never go back to old ways … So if you can afford a plane ticket, a train ticket, or even a bus ticket you can control your own destiny but if you’re locked into your native state then maybe you can’t. That we have one law for women of means and another for poor women is not a satisfactory situation.”
— Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Earlier this week, Imaginary Entertainment Company released a statement in opposition of Indiana HEA 1337: “Imaginary Entertainment Company has had a long, profitable relationship with the State of Indiana. However, we have grave concerns over Indiana House Enrolled Act 1337. This act will severely restrict the rights of Indiana’s women to receive abortion care. It also unfairly punishes doctors who perform abortions on women whose fetuses have severe fetal anomalies. We feel strongly that a woman’s right to a constitutionally protected medical procedure is exactly that: a right. One that should be between a woman and her doctor, not a woman and members of Indiana’s government. We urge Governor Pence to veto HEA 1337 and hope to continue working with the great people of the Hoosier State.” While not admitted to by the Governor, it’s widely believed the potential economic impact of an IEC boycott was a factor in his decision to veto the bill.”
Of the three paragraphs above, one is entirely made up. Can you guess which one? (Hint: We use the word “Imaginary.” Clever us.)
In recent weeks, as North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi moved to enact so-called “religious freedom” laws — designed to secure the rights of private citizens and businesses to discriminate against other citizens whose sexual orientations they don’t like — several national and multi-national corporations, as well as notable individuals, have threatened to divest, boycott, or cease production in these states. AT&T, Bank of America, and many other important and powerful companies even took out a full-page ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Easter Sunday strongly condemning the legislation.
So far, the economic stick has been an effective tool in getting these state governments to recognize the risk in codifying anti-LGBTQ discrimination into law. When it comes to the rights of LGBTQ human beings, it seems that corporate America is swiftly finding its way into the light; something that was long overdue. After all, these laws affect the safety and well-being of the employees of companies that do business there — not to mention the citizens of these states — many of whom are neither cisgender nor straight. Recently, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia effectively vowed to veto any bill of this kind coming across his desk. The Attorney General of North Carolina, Roy Cooper has said he will not defend any challenges to the similar law his Republican boss, Governor Pat McCrory, signed last week. And Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is already feeling the heat after signing a wide-ranging anti-LGBT bill into law on Monday.
So why aren’t more well-meaning, liberal, or even ostensibly neutral corporations and individuals, doing the same for women when it seems like every day, a different state legislature is proposing a bill to restrict, defund, or criminalize basic women’s health care?
March was an especially brutal month for women’s health. Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law an anti-choice omnibus bill, HB 1411, which defunds preventative services at clinics that also provide abortions. Clinics that offer abortions after the first trimester are now required to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. The law bans the sale, purchase or donation of fetal tissue resulting from abortion. Clinic inspection requirements will be more stringent, and under the law, any facility offering abortion-related counseling must register with the state.
In Utah, women who have an abortion at 20 weeks or later are now required to be administered unnecessary anesthesia during the procedure, based on the medically unproven belief that a fetus can feel pain. Arizona now requires doctors to use an outdated formula for medical abortions, and bans state employees from donating to abortion related causes through paycheck deductions, a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. In Indiana, women are now required to pay for the disposal or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage.
According to NARAL, since 2010 there have been 334 anti-abortion laws passed in the states. These restrictions have real-life, painful consequences for women and families. They put people’s lives at risk. A recent NY Times article laid out the numbers showing a frightening increase in Google searches for DIY, or self-induced, abortion, in states where the restrictions are particularly onerous. In general, access to abortion is decreasing nationwide.
In the meantime, awareness of the need to protect LGBTQ rights and physical safety is thankfully increasing, despite some lawmakers panicked attempts to barricade the doors of progress. Companies with a financial interest in protecting their employees safety and health are responding with the only thing that seems to get anyone to pay attention: the threat of taking their businesses elsewhere.
The question stands: Why is the health and safety of women not inspiring this kind of corporate response when we know that anti-abortion laws have a direct and negative impact on their state’s economies? Why are the rights and safety of women not a priority to companies that lose money when women lose their ability to access basic reproductive health care? What is it that the LGBTQ movement has been able to communicate that reproductive health rights advocates have not?
One guess is, most obviously, political clout. The Human Rights Campaign has a massive budget, huge political and corporate influence, and a focused constituency that is poised to respond with near lightning speed to any threat at the state level and beyond. Exemplary groups like GLAAD, PFLAG, ACT UP, GMHC, and many others are well-organized and well-funded, and their objectives are unambiguous: equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Women” is a much broader category, politically speaking. Equality means different things to different women. As is to be expected. But it also means that what doesn’t hurt me won’t affect me, so why should I bother to get involved? A sort of bystander syndrome of the soul takes over. Not ALL women need help. Just SOME of them! Well, the most obvious reason this is a dangerous kind of acquiescence (besides human rights, of course, and the moral imperative toward individual freedom) is our economic security as a nation.
So where is the social impetus to hit these states where it hurts when they hurt women?
As Justice Ginsburg says, the wealthy and privileged among us will always be able to access health care. We can travel, pay for child care or days off from work, visit a private clinic and pay huge sums to obtain the care we need. Poor women, women of color, immigrant and undocumented women, trans men already ostracized, not so much. These are the people who are most severely affected by these laws. And they’re not a very powerful political constituency. No one really cares about them. Well, no one with money cares about them. Because they don’t have to. Plus, not every pregnant person wants an abortion. But every trans person rightly wants to use the toilet without fear of humiliation or physical harm. Yet by ignoring the discrimination in reproductive and women’s health care rights, we are saying that women don’t deserve these very same protections when they need a doctor.
Let’s be honest. When Governor Deal said he’d veto any anti-LGBT legislation that came to his desk, it wasn’t because he’d experienced a moral epiphany. He didn’t wake up that day and think, “I’m Governor of Georgia and I have a duty to protect the dignity of all our citizens! This bill is an affront to our collective dignity and I cannot sign it into law! YAY!” More likely, he woke up one morning and thought, “Holy shit, we are going to lose so much money if I sign this. Major companies will move out of state and our economy will suffer and I’ll be run out of here on a rail.” Good for Governor Deal. He’s seen the light. With a little help from his friends. Good job, moneyed interests!
Surely there’s money in saving women’s lives and reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. Doesn’t basic economics tell us this? Of course it does. The cost of unintended pregnancy to our national economy is roughly $14 billion a year. In Texas alone it’s nearly 3 billion. Lost wages, lost productivity, health-care costs, lost lives, sick babies who’ve had no prenatal care because another state’s Planned Parenthood was defunded, etc. It adds up, you know. Denying women their humanity costs humanity a lot.
One also has to wonder where the entertainment industry and artistic community are in responding to these relentless waves of discrimination. Do they know how much women do to make show biz happen? When states threaten women’s lives and livelihoods, as we know they do with these laws, we don’t hear about bands refusing to tour, film or television companies threatening to move out production, or millionaire Broadway composers threatening to ban productions of their extremely successful shows that star female performers. We surely don’t see banks and communications companies buying full-page ads in major local papers. The famed and hugely lucrative SXSW Festival — with its attendant “progressive” and supposedly “forward-thinking” participants and audience — remains in Texas, despite that state doing more to put women’s lives at risk in the last two years than at any time since Roe v. Wade. Major artists, tech companies, communications innovators and other politically liberal-minded entrepreneurs do nothing, say nothing, threaten nothing, yet continue to attend and make bank while ignoring the backward state of existence for a majority of Texas women. As though Austin were somehow a magical, progressive cloud hovering peacefully above one of the worst states in the union for maternal mortality, abortion access, and prenatal care services.
We must hold these artists and corporations responsible for their choices. If they are comfortable with being part of the problem, we have to remind them there is a problem. Terminal bystanders, not willing to “get involved,” are what the LGBTQ equality movement has so beautifully and effectively succeeded in spotlighting for change. We must stop tolerating bystanders when it comes to women’s health and safety.
Women’s lives matter. The safety of their families matters. Children forced into pregnancy matter. Trans men’s reproductive health matters. And it costs us billions each year when we ignore them.
There is no competition here between our causes or our fights for recognition. Every person’s civil rights carry equal weight. We know this. Why don’t the people with money know it? And how do we get them to listen? This is a question for us first. The bottom of the food chain. The lowest rung on the ladder. Regular, average people. With wallets. And a conscience.
This piece originally appeared in DAME magazine.
Lead image: Pixabay