Nearly 200 CEOs and senior executives have signed an open letter that opposes any restrictions to reproductive health care and specifically abortion. The letter, published in a full-page ad in The New York Times, begins with a bold headline: Don’t Ban Equality.
While many of the executives come from companies catering primarily to female customers, like Eileen Fisher, Ezinne Kwubiri from H&M, and Mark and Karen Wolverton from Lush Cosmetics, not all do. Among the signatories are Jack Dorsey from Square, Ari Emanuel from Endeavor, Stewart Butterfield from Slack, and Eric S. Yuan from Zoom.
“Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers,” the ad says. “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 website for the coalition can be found here.
The alliance is a result of a behind-the-scenes effort from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, The American Civil Liberties Union, and Center for Reproductive Rights, and comes at a time when the nation is increasingly divided state-by-state on the issue of abortion access. While Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Missouri have all taken up legislation that in many cases threatens to ban abortions entirely and punish doctors who perform them, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Maine, Nevada, and Hawaii are all working on bills that would protect access to the procedure.
“We believe that a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care is critical to her autonomy, economic success, physical and mental health and general empowerment in the workplace,” signatory Andrea Blieden, U.S. general manager of The Body Shop, told CNBC. “As a brand that stands for equality and women’s empowerment, we believe it’s important that we take a stand and join this cause.”
The open letter is a big step up from last May, when only seven CEOs, all women, ran a full-page ad in The New York Times affirming abortion as a human and constitutional right and asking for leaders to say as much. “For too long, corporate America has been largely silent on speaking up for sexual and reproductive health and rights,” the letter read. “That must change.”
Change may be coming.
After Georgia passed a law banning most abortions after six weeks, film director Spike Lee called for Hollywood production companies to “shut it down” and boycott the state. “You’ve got to be on the right side of history, and the state of Georgia and those other states, they’re wrong,” he said.
Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia, AMC Networks, NBCUniversal, CBS Corp., and Showtime have threatened or are considering boycotts, a move that seems to have startled the annual $9.5 billion industry known as Y’allywood.
“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told Reuters.
It’s more proof that CEOs are increasingly finding ways to speak up on issues that affect society—data shows nearly half of all millennials think it’s their job to do so—exerting their collective power while navigating the thorniest of issues.
That’s why I’m particularly proud to co-chair Fortune’s CEO Initiative, now in its third year.
While we don’t plan to take on abortion specifically (although CEOI members Zendesk’s Mikkel Svane and Hint Water’s Kara Goldin signed the letter) we will be tackling the many ways that chief executives who are committed to improving the social impact of their businesses can tap the collective wisdom of their peers to make better, more equitable decisions.
The action begins tonight at 6 p.m. Eastern when Microsoft CEO Brad Smith talks with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky about how technology can better work for everyone. It continues at 7:30 p.m. when IBM CEO Ginni Rometty joins Fortune CEO Alan Murray to tackle the subject of inclusion and equity in the era of A.I.
Follow the livestream here.