Familiar corporations bankrolled the sponsors of Texas’ illegal abortion ban 

By Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria

An activist speaks outside the Supreme Court in protest against the new Texas abortion law (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Texas just enacted the nation’s most draconian abortion ban, prohibiting all abortions after six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Further, the law places a $10,000 bounty on anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion in Texas after six weeks. Private citizens can collect the bounty by filing a lawsuit. 

The politicians who sponsored Texas’ abortion ban are backed by some of the nation’s most prominent corporations. These same corporations hold themselves out as champions of women’s rights. 

AT&T, for example, is one of the top donors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban, also known as SB 8. Since 2018, AT&T has donated $301,000 to the sponsors of SB 8.

Yet, in AT&T’s 2020 Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Report, CEO John Stankey said one of the company’s “core values” was “gender equity and the empowerment of women.”

On August 26, AT&T celebrated “Women’s Equality Day,” saying it was “a day to reflect on the many challenges women in our society still face to achieve equity.” The company said that it believed “empowered women are key to the success of their communities.”

Popular Information asked AT&T whether it supported SB 8 or would continue to financially back the Texas legislators behind the bill. The company did not respond. 

Previously, AT&T has been more outspoken about extreme abortion bans. In 2019, Georgia enacted a law banning abortion after six weeks. WarnerMedia, an AT&T subsidiary that is the parent company of Warner Bros., HBO, TNT, and TBS, said that, if the Georgia law was upheld by the courts, the company would “reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions.” Ultimately, the Georgia bill was invalidated by the courts.

Other corporations that publicly champion women’s rights are major backers of the sponsors of SB 8. Comcast/NBCUniversal, for example, has donated $58,250 to the sponsors of SB8 since 2018.

In 2020, NBCUniversal announced a year-long advertising campaign focusing on “women’s empowerment,” claiming the spots would “will inspire audiences to continue to advance women in society overall.”

In 2019, NBCUniversal also suggested that it would not produce content in states enacting abortion bans. “If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future,” the company said

Popular Information contacted Comcast/NBCUniversal and asked if the company supported SB8 and if it would continue to support the law’s sponsors in the future. Like AT&T, the company did not respond.

What’s changed? Jen Stark of the Tara Health Foundation, who helped organize the corporate response to 2019 abortion bans in Georgia and other states, said the lack of national media attention on the Texas bill “caught companies off guard.” Further, corporations were used to courts stepping in with injunctions to block the implementation of most anti-abortion laws. But the Supreme Court, with a new conservative super-majority, has allowed the Texas law to go into effect. 

Stark says that there is a “‘Don’t Ban Equality in Texas’ statement circulating that many large companies and well known brands are also intensely considering.” Such a statement is essential, according to Stark, because other states — including Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, South Dakota, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Ohio — are considering following Texas’ lead. Corporations need “to speak out and send a signal that Texas has gone too far,” Stark says, and encourage states to “consider the business impact of these bans.” 

But while corporate America thinks things over, women in Texas are living under this oppressive new law. Millions more women in other states might soon be in the same situation. Subscribe

The other large corporate donors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban

Many other prominent national corporations are major contributors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban. CVS Health, for example, has donated to $72,500 to the sponsors of SB 8 since 2018. On social media, however, CVS says its mission is to “support the unique health needs of women at every age.”

Popular Information asked CVS Health if the company supported SB 8 and if it would continue to financially support the law’s sponsors. CVS Health did not directly answer those questions but sent the following statement: “Past political contributions are by no means a blanket endorsement of an individual’s position on every issue, nor are they an indication of where we’ll direct our future support.”

UnitedHealth Group promotes itself as a champion of women’s equality but donated $90,000 to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban since 2018.

Health insurer Anthem says it strives to “empower women within our own organization and in the communities we serve” but donated $87,250 to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban over the last three years. 

Other major corporate donors to the sponsors of SB 8 include Charter Communications ($313,000), USAA ($152,000), Farmers Insurance ($120,000), General Motors ($72,750), and State Farm ($58,250).

The largest donor to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban

While corporations provided major funding for the sponsors of SB 8, the largest contributor to those legislators over the last three years is a political organization: Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR). The organization is funded mostly by large individual contributions from wealthy Texans. According to TLR’s website, its mission is to fight “against new causes of action and new theories of liability.”

Yet, since 2018, TLR’s PAC has donated nearly $2.3 million to the sponsor’s of SB 8 — legislation that allows anyone to sue anyone that helps a woman get an abortion in Texas and receive $10,000. The law “marks an unprecedented change to who has standing to bring a lawsuit.” There are no penalties for filing frivolous lawsuits. 

But TLR told the Texas Tribune that “the group did not oppose the abortion law.” TLR’s leadership includes nine men and no women

How corporations helped remake the Supreme Court

States passing laws that place restrictions on abortion that go far beyond Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court precedent is not new. What is new is that the Supreme Court, with a new conservative super-majority, has allowed Texas’ abortion ban to go in effect.

Five members of the court, including three appointed to the bench by Trump, embraced the legally frivolous theory that they could not enjoin the law because it relied on private lawsuits for enforcement and no such lawsuits had been filed. 

The Supreme Court has the ability to preserve the status quo when plaintiffs have a strong chance of success on the merits — and especially when constitutional rights are at stake.

Effectively, the five Justices were arguing that the law does not create any harm absent a lawsuit. But, as the dissenting Justices note, “at midnight, the Act became law, and many abortion providers, including applicants, ceased providing abortion care after more than six weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period.”

How did the Supreme Court become an institution that would set aside Roe v. Wade without even a cursory attempt to grapple with decades of jurisprudence? No organization has played a greater role in pushing the Supreme Court hard right than The Federalist Society.

Its leader, Leonard Leo, “has been on a mission to turn back the clock to a time before the U.S. Supreme Court routinely expanded the government’s authority and endorsed new rights such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

No one had more influence on Trump’s Supreme Court picks than Leo, who also had a war chest of hundreds of millions of dollars to promote their confirmation. At times, Leo took a formal “leave of absence” from the Federalist Society to join Trump’s White House.

According to its most recent annual report, from 2019, corporate donors to the Federalist Society include Google ($100,000+), Facebook ($50,000+), Chevron ($50,000+), T-Mobile ($25,000+), Verizon ($25,000+), Exxon ($10,000+), and Campbell’s Soup ($5,000+).

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