Commentary: Companies supporting abortion rights? Their political donations tell a different story

Just a few months ago, it would have been unusual for baristas to ask their boss for travel funds to get abortions out of state. But after last month’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and with abortion banned or severely restricted in more than half the states, this could be the new reality for millions of Americans.

After a June draft decision leaked in May, Starbucks and other companies announcement that they would reimburse travel expenses for employees wishing to have legal abortions outside their state. Since the court’s decision in June, dozens more have joined the choir to help their abortion seeking workers, including Meta, Yelp, You’re here, Target, Nordström and Dick Sporting Goods.

This is a generous gesture from entities rarely involved in the reproductive health care sector. But it’s hard to trust their sincerity when you look at where the money from these companies is going.

Many companies offering abortion funds have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans who are working to limit access to abortion. According to a report by the Center for Political Accountability, Bank of America donated $25,000 last year to Assn. Republican attorneys general, whose members support restricting access to abortion. Other companies that have pledged to help employees travel for abortions have also donated to the Republican group in recent years, including Yelp, Citigroup, Microsoft, Uber and Bank of America.

Many of these companies have contributed equal or larger amounts to Democrats (which itself is problematic due to the outsized size radiation money in politics), but given the companies’ commitment to helping employees circumvent abortion restrictions, their contributions to the GOP leaders who enacted those restrictions are particularly hypocritical.

Would you expect Johnson & Johnson, a company that touts “expanding access to health care” and prioritizing “the world’s underserved people” to be included? The company donated $175,000 last year to Republican groups, including $50,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Assn.

The group of lawyers organized a private retreat this week for businesses whose potential donations would “fight the Democrats’ pro-abortion agenda and stand for life,” according to a June 24 fundraising email. Johnson & Johnson, Matching group and Comcast were on the list of expected attendees, despite their claims that they would pay for employees to travel for abortions.

Funding such efforts hardly sounds like caring employers supporting the reproductive needs of their workers.

“If you saw a company actually supporting the rights of its workers, it would say, ‘our company is no longer making campaign contributions to any politician who implements any of these policies or has said they will.'” This would be a gesture of worker solidarity,” Elizabeth Ananat, professor of women and economics at Barnard College, told me.

Why would companies that openly support abortion rights donate money to political causes they ostensibly oppose? The answer is, unsurprisingly, rooted in their fundamental desire for profit.

Most big business wants access to politicians, so they split their contributions between political parties and people with “very different” ideological approaches, according to John Schmitt, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

“They don’t use their time to sit down with lawmakers to change their minds on abortion,” Schmitt told me. “They use the time to change the regulatory structure that affects their industries or to influence where the federal, state [or] local funds go.

It is natural for a company to pursue its results, but at what human cost? How many women would have to be forced into childbearing for a CEO to cut ties with politicians and anti-abortion groups? You would think such a decision is a quick one, but in the bizarre moral universe of corporate affairs, it must be carefully weighed against the potential financial risks a business might face.

“The point is, this can’t be a bloodless business decision because of the broader dimension of risk that businesses face today,” Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, told me.

These societies have already accumulated a long list of sins. Amazon, which donated $200,000 to the Republican Governors Assn. this year is famous for its dehumanizing and dangerous working conditions, with workers reporting urinate in water bottles. Starbucks, which make a donation more than $4,000 this year to Republican National Committees and more than $40,000 to these groups in 2020, has been charged with more than 200 labor violations in New York after he allegedly coerced employees into not forming unions and employing intimidation tactical against baristas. With such records, why should corporate pledges of kindness be considered anything other than image control?

Companies that intervene for their distressed and abortion-seeking employees could tell a heartfelt story. But if we want a story of true virtue, corporate words must match their actions.