Just days after Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law the so-called "heartbeat bill", an effective ban on abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy, Alabama's near-total abortion ban moved forward and was signed into law last week by Republican Governor Kay Ivey.
This law only allows a pregnancy termination to happen under the exception of an existing direct threat to the mother’s life. The law is considered the most restrictive in the country, as it disregards exceptions on the basis of rape and incest, after a failed amendment proposal that was voted against by 21 Senators versus 11. Moreover, it explicitly states that physicians who perform terminations can be prosecuted.
Recent events have triggered an uproar from women in the reproductive justice and women’s health field. The laws passed in several conservative states are considered the most direct attack to Roe v. Wade since its passing in 1973, and are said to be aimed at elevating the issue to the Supreme Court for reevaluation. Amidst conversations of hope that the laws will never come into effectiveness, a group of female founders in the women’s health and reproductive space decided to use their platforms to take a stance.
An Open Letter Inviting Corporate America To Act
In a new full-page open letter running in today’s edition of The New York Times, the CEOs and cofounders of seven women’s health companies are speaking out against the wave of state abortion bans and challenging corporate America to join them in standing up for reproductive rights.
The open letter was commissioned and signed by Adriel Denae and Jen Auerbach of Clary Collection, Molly Hayward of Cora, Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman of Dame, Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung of Fur, Erica Chidi Cohen and Quinn Lundburg of LOOM, Meika Hollender of Sustain Natural and Maria Molland of THINX Inc., where they declared “As women, and business leaders, we support the right to choose today and every day.”
In the open letter, they go on to explain: “For too long, corporate America has been largely silent on speaking up for sexual and reproductive health and rights. That must change. Today, we loudly and boldly declare that we will not be silent in defense of fundamental human rights and we challenge our peers in the business community to do the same. Now is the time to speak up.”
Meika Hollender, CEO and cofounder of Sustain Natural says "At Sustain, we have been ––and always will be–– fierce supporters of women and their reproductive right to choose. Since launching five years ago, through our 10%4Women program, we have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars and product to organizations like Planned Parenthood to increase access to the health services so many women currently lack. We are asking that all female CEOs and business leaders come together and take a stand.”
Sextech startup Dame will be donating $3 dollars for every sale for the rest of May to the Yellowhammer Fund. “We founded Dame Products to promote sexual well-being. I’ve worked at Planned Parenthood. It’s never an easy decision. I’ve held the hands of women during their procedures. I know the gravity of their decisions and safety we offered them on one of their darkest days. Our hearts are heavy because we know what these policies mean for the lives of women,” said Fine of Dame. “We need to trust women and the decisions they make on their own behalf,” added Auerbach and Denae of Clary.
Molly Hayward, founder of Cora, emphasized the need to speak up, “When states interfere in the personal medical decisions of a woman, women are oppressed and unequal. At Cora, we have always advocated for the liberation of women by providing access to health education and millions of menstrual products to girls in need around the world and here in the U.S.”
Unpacking The Consequences Of Reproductive Restrictions
The conversation around abortion is multifaceted and not an easy one. A common concern expressed by many pro-choice groups is that abortion bans greatly impact women in underprivileged communities , including women of color and low income individuals, who might not have access to the resources to travel to receive assistance, as well as to get protection if they find themselves in abusive situations.
“History has shown us that banning abortions has never made them inaccessible to the wealthy and privileged in our society, but rather makes them unavailable or extremely unsafe to lower income families and underrepresented individuals,” said Auerbach and Denae, who staunchly support safe access to care regardless of income.
Companies and business leaders need to stand up and pick a side: do they support a person’s right to choice, or will they stay silent? At THINX Inc., we choose to loudly defend abortion as a constitutional right— especially for trans and non-binary folx, and communities of color, who are disproportionately affected by these policies. We need to ensure that all people with periods are empowered with access to comprehensive healthcare," says Molland of THINX Inc.
Additionally, reproductive rights advocates claim that it is precisely supporters of termination bans that are blocking important initiatives aimed at reducing health issues related to social determinants of health, as well as supporting non-scientific, abstinence focused sexual health education in high schools and defunding sexual health prevention campaigns by organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
Taking A Stance In The Age of Activist Marketing
At a time when many large organizations are following so-called “activist marketing” practices and centering their brands around important social and political issues, such as gender equality - and yielding great returns from doing so-, Hollender is expectant to see how these corporations will interact with such a controversial topic: “I understand that this is a difficult subject and that organizations might be concerned about the reaction of the public. But now it’s different, lives are on the line. We have large platforms, voices and followings: We need to work together to defend issues that affect us.”
With power comes responsibility. Will corporate America respond to one of the most
controversial subjects of our time? One thing is for sure, reproductive rights activists and founders will be waiting for the next wave of “women’s empowerment” marketing with eyes wide open.
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