In a new level of corporate positioning on social issues, scores of CEOs have written an open letter framing the abortion/choice debate as a matter of employees’ rights.
The authors include the chief executives of H&M, Twitter, Ben & Jerry’s, Warby Parker, Yelp and Postmates. The letter was presented in a full-page New York Times ad and has an accompanying website.
It states, in part:
Equality in the workplace is one of the most important business issues of our time.
When everyone is empowered to succeed, our companies, our communities and our economy are better for it.
Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business. It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.
The future of gender equality hangs in the balance, putting our families, communities, businesses and the economy at risk.
The letter was coordinated by a coalition of organizations, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU, which will “provide opportunities for companies to help protect reproductive rights in the critical months and years to come,” according to a statement.
The letter comes as many organizations are struggling to address concerns and divisions created by a series of new abortion laws passed in states like Georgia, Ohio and more.
In April and May, Ohio, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Missouri, and Alabama signed some of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country into law, though they all face court challenges and are yet to go into effect.
The strictest law is in Alabama, where abortion would be completely banned and doctors could face jail time over the procedure, while other states have moved to ban abortion with “heartbeat” bills that would ban abortion after around five or six weeks of pregnancy.
Several Hollywood studios, including Netflix and WarnerMedia announced they would reconsider investing in Georgia and other states that passed laws restricting abortion.
Open letters have become a popular tactic for activists on both sides of the abortion issue, in the U.S. and abroad.
Emma Watson wrote an open letter to the woman whose death was the catalyst for the fight to make abortion legal in Ireland.
Indian-born dentist Savita Halappanavar died following a septic miscarriage in 2012. Her death, which was later ruled to have been preventable had she been allowed to terminate the pregnancy, resulted in the repeal of the country’s ban on abortion.
“Dear Dr Savita Halappanavar, You didn’t want to become the face of a movement; you wanted a procedure that would have saved your life,” Watson began her letter, which was published by PORTER magazine.
“Time and again, when our local and global communities collectively mourn a tragic death due to social injustice, we pay tribute, mobilize and proclaim: rest in power,” Watson wrote. “A promise to the departed and a rallying call to society, we chant: never again. But it is rare that justice truly prevails for those whose deaths come to symbolize structural inequality. Rarer still is a historic feminist victory that emboldens the fight for reproductive justice everywhere.”
However, this is the first time so many business leaders have spoken out on the controversial subject.
“We are grateful and inspired to have so many business leaders standing with us proudly and publicly to oppose these dangerous, unprecedented attacks—raising the alarm about the chilling effect on their employees and the communities where they do business,” Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “People across the country are outraged—politicians have no place in our personal health decisions. And now more than ever, we must stand together to declare that reproductive health care, including abortion care, is necessary for all people to live healthy, successful lives.”
On social media, some applauded the move:
I'm grateful to every corporate CEO who signed this statement to #StopTheBans on abortion. We can't have a successful economy OR society when we're attacking the health and well-being of half the population. https://t.co/3SwWU7W8Ob
— (((L'EtatC'estMoi))) (@letat_lechat) June 11, 2019
Others were dismayed:
So it's "better for business" to kill off future generations of customers?
Murdering a child in the womb isn't, has never been, and will never be, "healthcare."https://t.co/V9Y0zynJzk
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) June 10, 2019
Others pointed out the contradictions the companies face in addressing workplace equality.
I wonder what the parental paid leave policies are of these CEOs' companies… https://t.co/nqXBTRgmnn
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) June 10, 2019
Some celebrated those companies’ alignment with their own deeply held beliefs:
I use Slack & Yelp and shop at H&M, The Body Shop, Everlane & Glossier (obviously! #BoyBrow). It feels good to know these companies that I support have values that align with mine – i.e. they support #ReproFreedom & access to abortion. https://t.co/gp20cdno3M #DontBanEquality
— Kate Thomas (@KateThomas) June 10, 2019
The companies say their stance is backed up by data, including the Edelman Trust Barometer, which shows that employees want the CEO to respond to big cultural issues.
New research from The Harris Poll and NARAL shows why businesses that value equality should be concerned about policies that restrict access to reproductive health care. And new research from Greenwald & Associates and Planned Parenthood Federation of America also confirms that an overwhelming majority of Americans see brand values as important when making purchasing decisions. What’s more, 90% of millennials say reproductive health is an important issue to them, while more than two-thirds say it is very or extremely important.
Most Americans agree that a person’s access to success and economic security is inextricably linked to their access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. 71% of voters oppose overturning Roe V. Wade (NBC-WSJ poll), 75% of employed adults believe abortion should be legal (The Harris Poll/NARAL), and the majority of Americans believe that the economic security of families is linked to the ability to their access affordable reproductive care.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times. For companies, CEOs and founders that value equality, signing this letter gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership on these issues to customers and employees.