Counting the cost of progressive pandering?
Jerry Bowyer | Corporate America’s response to the Dobbs decision gives reason for hope
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It appears that at least some in corporate America are learning the risks of stumbling into divisive political issues. Although large numbers of companies were quick to jump on board the Twitter Train when the issues were same-sex marriage, #MeToo, and BLM, the momentum has since slowed. The turning point was Disney's decision to attack the mis-labeled “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Having been goaded into the battle by a hyper-vocal micro-minority, the company found itself on the receiving end of a thorough brand tarnishing, the loss of an important municipal law privilege and ongoing scrutiny over the way the company has lobbied its way into some highly favorable intellectual property perks.
Previously, the rest of corporate America would have hopped to in response to orders from LGBTQ headquarters, but this time the response was rather muted. Corporate managers are a pragmatic and risk-averse lot, and it was becoming clear that a shift had occurred. The risks of backlash from the right were rising, while the threats from the left were ringing increasingly hollow.
Perhaps that’s why, in a survey by the Morning Consult, only 8 percent of companies had weighed in on the Dobbs decision, and that issue ranked 13th from the top when it came to matters of corporate political concern, far below issues such as racial equality, gay rights and COVID-19.
Of course, some companies have spoken out, but generally they have done so in more cautious ways, focusing not on the social issue in general but rather on human resources. In other words, instead of calling for Roe to be reinstated as the law of the land, most companies simply added abortion costs to their health-care reimbursement policy. While all of this is clearly a transparent act of political pandering, the very fact that it was dressed up as personnel management indicates a degree of wariness from board rooms.
Furthermore, those companies that did leap to ostentatiously announce plans to pay for abortion tourism found themselves on the receiving end of awkward questions about how the company treats the women who exercise their freedom of choice to actually keep their children. For example, Derek Kreifels, writing on Fox News, points out that Amazon, which was quick to offer abortion reimbursement, had a troubling history when it comes to the treatment of pregnant women. There were accusations and even legal actions complaining about pregnant women being denied adequate bathroom visitation and time off their feet, to the point that one woman reportedly miscarried.
Others, such as Microsoft and Bank of America, faced similar scrutiny with allegations of bias against pregnant women in promotion decisions and pressure to undergo abortion as career guidance. Further, a number of companies that have announced special financial subsidies for abortion have found themselves fielding inconvenient inquiries from journalists, including yours truly, as to whether they offer similar subsidies for adoption, the other choice. Their demurrals suggest that the conversation is not in their interest. How long will it take for these holdouts to realize that the decision to insert themselves into the middle of a culture war will almost always lead to uncomfortable conversations?
Even the Zeno Group, part of Edelman, the world’s largest public relations conglomerate, initially counseled its blue-chip list of clients to avoid the Dobbs topic, warning companies: “Do not take a stance you cannot reverse. They also advised companies to see the topic as “a classic 50/50 issue.” The firm went so far as to urge company executives not to appear as guests on any breaking news outlets on any topics for several news cycles because the interviewer might also ask about abortion and Dobbs.
When the memo leaked, Zeno quickly backpedaled, claiming that its own memo doesn’t accurately reflect its view and pledging fealty to “a woman’s right to choose her healthcare,” but that just strengthens the point. Even an ideologically captured firm in a captured industry felt the need to tell their clients to tread carefully on this one.
The battle for life in the boardroom is far from over. But what’s different this time around is that now there actually is a battle. Until now, most Christians blissfully hid their heads in the sand, assuming that trusted brands (such as Disney) were safely on their side. But we woke up, and after an initial phase of impotent outrage from a distance we are now beginning to engage in small ways with the companies we buy from, work for, and own.
The fact that corporate America has been far more cautious on Dobbs than on any other recent controversy shows that even the little bit of resistance we’ve started to show may have awakened these companies to the peril of progressive posturing. At the very least, it looks like we have their attention. Let’s make the most of it.
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