Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and hand back legislative authority over abortion to democratically elected officials, many corporations went public with their opposition to the ruling, as well as their willingness to foot the bill for employees’ abortion-related travel expenses.
That response was foreshadowed by earlier pledges from a long list of companies that included Airbnb, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, PayPal, and Amazon—which signaled their intentions to support the abortion lobby when Justice Alito’s majority opinion was leaked more than a month prior to the Court’s final ruling.
But despite Corporate America’s relative homogeneity, companies that offered the politically charged financial incentive did so not only against the advice of major public relations firms like Zeno Group—which serves brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola—but contrary to the will of a large section of their customers, employees, and shareholders.
It hardly needs mentioning that abortion has been a highly polarizing issue for decades. And while many Americans are unclear on what Roe (and the decision overturning it) means for abortion laws, polling shows that 71 percent of the country favors pro-life protections that Roe put off-limits.
C-suite leaders who use their companies as vehicles to promote abortion are far out of step with a large majority of their stakeholders. This kind of corporate activism on social and political issues is bad for business. One Stanford study showed that CEO activism risks alienating at least a third of the public—70 million adults—with 35 percent of those surveyed objecting to CEOs of large companies using “their position and potential influence to advocate on behalf of social, environmental, or political issues they care about personally.”
And this isn’t just true when it comes to abortion. Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s hesitant decision to oppose Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill and go all-in on divisive politics is backfiring. Political activism also took center stage in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where acts of protest staged by the U.S. women’s soccer team and hammer throw athlete Gwen Berry, along with a deeply politicized reaction to gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from team competition dominated headlines throughout the event. That no doubt played into a viewership drop of 45 percent—including 51 percent in prime-time—compared to the 2016 Rio games. Similar results have plagued both the NBA and NFL. That means countless dollars in wasted advertising revenue and continued politicization of the American marketplace.
So why is Corporate America willing to alienate customers and employees—and even hamper future productivity and innovation—to shill for abortion? One crucial factor is the overwhelming presence of special-interest groups that exert an outsized influence on corporate boardrooms.
The “Don’t Ban Equality Coalition,” for example, has spearheaded much of the current corporate resistance to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. The group is supported by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL pro-Choice America, the ACLU, Rhia Ventures, National Women Law Center, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
According to the coalition’s website, companies should “ensure benefits support the spectrum of workers’ reproductive health needs,” “understand and engage on reproductive health policy,” and “align corporate political giving with equity commitments.”
This agenda is far afield from the views of most Americans—including customers, employees, and shareholders. Businesses should respect everyone, that’s why supporting divisive social or political agendas is bad for business, and harmful to democracy. This is especially true when companies take positions on hot-button social issues unrelated to their core missions. A business may mean well by signaling a position on controversial issues, but corporate leaders need to avoid alienating their stakeholders and the public.
On the Viewpoint Diversity Score 2022 Business Index, we researched whether the 50 Fortune 1000 companies we scored respected diverse views within their political spending and advocacy. Due in large part to the entrenched activism of pressure groups like the “Don’t Ban Equality Coalition,” just three companies—BOK Financial, Fidelity National Information Services, and First Horizon National—earned all possible points on that section.
In addition to carefully evaluating whether support for political causes is within the company’s proper scope, C-suite leaders should thoroughly scrutinize any advocacy position to ensure that it both protects the core freedoms of all Americans and respects the diverse viewpoints of the company’s stakeholders. To make measurable progress in this area, every company should adopt and enforce our “Pledge to Respect Freedom of Expression and Belief through Corporate Advocacy and Political Engagement.”
As our research showed, far too many publicly traded corporations are buckling to activist pressure to prioritize political advocacy that not only divides Americans, but also imperils free speech and religious liberty. And as we’ve pointed out previously, this isn’t just happening at the behest of activists, but through the heavy hand of the government, which all too often misuses ambiguous terms like “misinformation” and “disinformation” to advance political goals. Especially when it comes to abortion advocacy, these corporations are not only doing lasting harm to the economy and democracy, they’re also setting themselves up for failure.
Businesses should respect viewpoint diversity at every level of their organizations, from the shop floor to the board room. And when it comes to hot-button issues like abortion, that means declining to use corporate resources to advocate for a position that will not only alienate a large swath of stakeholders, but also imperil fundamental freedoms.
Find out more about how what every company can do to improve its commitment to respecting viewpoint diversity here.