When Billie Eilish performed to a sold-out crowd at Austin City Limits at the beginning of October, she told the crowd she almost didn’t come to the Texas capitol — and S.B. 8, the six-week abortion ban, was to blame. “When they made that shit a law, I almost didn’t want to do the show, because I wanted to punish this fucking place for allowing that to happen here… My body, my fucking choice!” Eilish yelled at the crowd, holding up her middle finger for emphasis.
The massive screens behind her proclaimed “BANS OFF OUR BODIES.” She posted that middle-finger moment to Instagram and raked in more than 2 million likes.
Houston’s own Megan Thee Stallion also railed against S.B. 8 and the legislators who passed it in an Instagram post and during her own set: “This middle finger is also to these motherfucking men that want to tell us what the fuck to do with our body,” she told the ACL crowd. “Cuz how the fuck you gonna tell me what to do with my motherfucking body?”
S.B. 8 — a law that outlaws abortion after six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest and unclear medical exemptions — was largely ignored by national media as it wound its way through the Texas legislature. While courts have legally laughed at most abortion bans that early in gestation, S.B. 8 got creative with its enforcement by letting private civil actions (including a $10,000 bounty) police the choices of Texans. It went into effect at midnight on Sept. 1, with the Supreme Court declining to issue an injunction because of the “complex and novel” questions at hand.
It’s clear that S.B. 8 is unpopular and that abortion rights remain very popular. But this has not allowed any municipality or state any bit of clarity of how to handle this moment. Portland threatened to boycott Texas, but pulled back. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told MSNBC in mid-September that the state was “looking intensely to find what resources” that it can use to bring Texans to New York. Illinois Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill with a similar civil bounty structure against any who “commits an act of sexual assault or domestic abuse,” using the bounty to cover the costs of Texans traveling to Illinois for abortion care.
But the corporate response to S.B. 8 has been largely ad hoc and ineffective. It’s been nearly two months since the cruel law went into effect, and no Texas company has announced plans to leave. They haven’t even plans they don’t plan to follow through on but would surely result in earned media with a “break the internet” level of reception. Not one single company wants to attempt this by standing with pregnant Texans? Are our bodies not worth that little?
By contrast, in 2019, the Don’t Ban Equality in Texas campaign was a public stand by corporations against restricting abortion access and comprehensive reproductive care. The signatories acknowledged that taking away health care of any kind threatened the bottom line. The group included Square, Zoom, Glossier, Postmates, Eileen Fisher, Yelp, Lyft, Stitch Fix, Trillium Asset Management, H&M, Warby Parker, Atlantic Records, and more. All in all, at least Fifty companies signed this letter. There was a full-page ad in The New York Times.
In place of this kind of response, some companies have established in-house legal funds for contractors to whom won’t give healthcare, and other companies are trying to replicate abortion funds. These corporations are, essentially, choosing the tax benefits of Texas over any sort of principles.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told Bloomberg TV at the end of September that the morally dubious ride share company would stand behind its drivers (because of the unclear language written in the law’s bounty system, potentially a ride share driver who even unknowingly takes a person to their abortion appointment could be legally liable. “We don’t think drivers should be sued by private clients, we think that’s unprecedented — it’s wrong,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “If it happens in another state, we’re going to stand behind drivers just like we did in Texas.”
Along with Uber, competitor Lyft announced it would cover legal expenses for any of its contractors caught in the civil court system because of S.B. 8.
Austin-headquartered Bumble created a “relief fund” for reproductive rights. (It’s still unclear if this is an internal abortion fund or simply a donation to one of the funds already active in Texas.) Dallas-based Match Group (of Tinder, Hinge and PlentyOfFish renown) CEO Shar Dubey established a company-wide abortion fund for its Texas employees and dependents. “The company generally does not take political stands unless it is relevant to our business. But in this instance, I personally, as a woman in Texas, could not keep silent,” Dubey wrote in a statement given to The Dallas Morning News.
Imagine having to tell your employer that you are having an abortion! Imagine believing you could do mutual aid better than the dozens of groups helping Texans! The audacity!
Corporate boycotts work. When North Carolina passed the anti-trans bill banning local non-discrimination ordinances, the economic fallout was swift. The NCAA pulled seven championship tournament games, including multiple round of March Madness. PayPal stopped plans to build a new facility. Deutsche Bank decided to not bring jobs to Raleigh. Ringo Starr cancelled a small-town concert. Adidas chose to build a shoe factory near Atlanta instead of North Carolina. Lionsgate pulled out television production The anti-trans legislation cost the state $3.76 billion. Eventually HB 2 was repealed.