The new cover of Bloomberg Businessweek is, in their new tradition, quite something: it reads “Warren Buffett: Feminist Icon? The inside story of how the Buffett Foundation is changing the reproductive lives of millions of women.” No question mark needed, man! We knew this about Warren.
In a time when Planned Parenthood is literally being attacked left and right, billionaire/Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett’s Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation is ever-so-quietly donating an enormous amount of money to women’s health. “In 2013, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, it gave away almost half a billion dollars, largely to organizations dedicated to reproductive health,” Bloomberg reports—and it does so without fanfare. “It barely maintains a website, studiously avoids press, and has about 20 people on staff. The foundation and Buffett didn’t respond to requests to comment for this article.”
This isn’t brand new news; Buffett’s giving to pro-choice organization has been reported on in spurts for at least the past decade or so, with Fox News and other conservative outlets more recently working to label the millions he’s given as donations to “abortion groups.”
But as reporter Karen Weise explains, while the Buffett Foundation originally gave money to Planned Parenthood and other organizations, in later years, it’s expanded its scope specifically to help fund research for IUD technology, which has drastically improved in the past few decades, and has proven to be one of the most effective forms of birth control. One state they specifically targeted was Colorado, which as we’ve seen in reporting done recently, has hugely benefitted from IUDs being made available to teens to prevent teen pregnancy, despite hustle from conservative lawmakers to defund those programs. Buffett has also specifically (and anonymously) helped fund the development of Liletta, a lower-cost, newly available version of the hormonal IUD Mirena.
Why is he so focused on women’s health? From an interview Bloomberg unearthed, the Foundation’s former director for domestic programs Judith DeSarno explained:
“For Warren, it’s economic. He thinks that unless women can control their fertility—and that it’s basically their right to control their fertility—that you are sort of wasting more than half of the brainpower in the United States,” DeSarno said about Buffett’s funding of reproductive health in the 2008 interview. “Well, not just the United States. Worldwide.”
Obviously, Buffett isn’t close to being entirely responsible for the traction IUDs have gotten, or the success of Planned Parenthood and other organizations that have tirelessly worked to maintain a standard of care for women against a fog of people trying to prevent them from doing their jobs. But, as he’s done in other sectors, Buffett has appointed the right people to look at a problem and tackle it creatively.
What’s particularly interesting is Bloomberg’s framing of Buffett’s devotion to women’s health, not in the article itself, but on the cover: it suggests both that in this political climate it’s borderline insane that a white man billionaire could be so staunchly devoted to promoting women’s health, and that it’s strange that a liberal man who named his foundation after his first wife would be a feminist. The imagery—a colorful homage to consciousness-raising circles and zine culture from the 2nd and 3rd waves—creates a juxtaposition between Buffett’s black-and-white face and the hand-drawn, softer images of the women he’s helping.
But the piece elucidates, where the cover doesn’t, that nothing about Buffett’s funding of women’s health programs is at odds with his typical behavior. You can thank Warren Buffett for your IUD, but it seems likely that even he wouldn’t want you to give him too much credit for it.
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Images via Nati Harnik/AP, Bloomberg Businessweek