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Corporate activism meets its limits after Roe

Amazon | Reuters/Mike Segar

June 24 wasn’t just the end of federal abortion on demand — it was also the end of a long-running corporate ruse. America’s biggest businesses, we were told for years, would do anything to protect their woke social causes. They’d write letters, donate to the loudest activists, lobby on Capitol Hill, even publicly shame their own customer base. But when push comes to shove, would these CEOs really fall on their sword to protect abortion? The answer, so far, is no.

Amazon’s employees, who’ve gotten used to the company’s sermonizing in the culture wars, were under the impression that the brand would put its money where its moralizing is. In an open letter, signed by hundreds of workers after the Supreme Court’s ruling, they demanded that CEO Jeff Bezos amputate half of his U.S. sales. “Cease operations in states that enact laws that threaten the lives and liberty of abortion seekers,” they ordered. “We … request immediate and decisive action,” the group insisted

Action — immediate or otherwise — never came. Like most companies, the thought of willingly walking away from half of their American customers was a corporate bridge too far. Sure, Amazon joined the now 60 businesses (General MillsMorgan StanleyTarget, and Wells Fargo becoming the latest to jump on the bandwagon) offering abortion stipends to their employees, but that’s a far cry from voluntarily walking away from billions of dollars in profit. The bottom line, it seems, is still the bottom line. 

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That’s not to say that radical politicians haven’t tried. Last year, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) challenged several CEOs in Texas to “rethink” whether they should operate out of states “that [strip] residents of their dignity.” “As radical legislators … functionally eradicate the autonomy of half the state [with the heartbeat law], cutting off their access to basic health care, family planning, and the freedom to thrive, I invite you to consider a new home base for your company — one that embraces the policies of the 21st Century and aligns with your company’s values …”

Not surprisingly, no one took Pritzker up on his offer. And why would they? The oppressive taxes and choking regulations of a typical blue state aren’t exactly enticing. Most CEOs with half a brain aren’t about to swap their headquarters in the second best state for doing business (according to Forbes’s latest list) with #37. As the New York Times’s Alexander Burns pointed out, “Companies thriving in Texas’s freewheeling business environment were not about to flee because of legally contested abortion regulations that were not certain to be enforced.” 

Now, several months later, the federal “right” to abortion is gone — and no one is racing to press conferences to announce their sudden relocation to abortion-friendly states. Instead, CEOs are being forced to own up to an uncomfortable reality: they need the free economic climate of redder states. And while Democrats like Governor Roy Cooper (N.C.) are issuing dire warnings that protecting life will “have a negative effect on economic growth here in our state,” it’s nothing but a tired talking point. 

Two case studies — Cooper’s own state in 2016 and nearby Georgia in 2021 — have already debunked the Left’s Chicken Little scenarios. When North Carolina passed its bathroom bill, H.R. 2, six years ago, all Americans heard about were the coming cataclysm for states that defended privacy. An economic storm is brewing, liberals warned, and it’ll level anyone brave enough to put safety above political correctness. Headlines about financial ruin covered the front pages of states like North Carolina and Texas, where leaders were battling to keep men out of girls’ restrooms, changing rooms, and showers. At one point, a group called the Texas Association of Business claimed that the Lone Star state would lose a whopping $8.5 billion in GDP and 185,000 jobs if it passed the measure that a majority of Texans wanted. The goal was to get people to think twice about the bill. And it worked — until the facts came out. 

Turns out, the figures were completely bogus. Even PolitiFact rated the claim MOSTLY FALSE. In the months and years that followed, more data helped cut the legs out from under the already shaky argument. In Forbes’s Top States for Business 2019 report, Texas finished #2, the state’s best showing since 2006. And North Carolina — ground zero in the bathroom wars? Number one. So much for conservative values being bad for business!

Other states have been fed the same baloney about financial ruin, boycotts, and the collapse of their collegiate sports. As usual, none of the Left’s prophecies of doom ever materialized. In fact, North Carolina went on to top Forbes’s Best States for Business List three years running! Job growth, gross state product growth, hospitality were among the strongest — if not the strongest — in the entire country in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Even the state’s population grew twice as fast as the U.S. average. North Carolina didn’t just weather that storm, they thrived.

In Georgia, where liberals threw out the same stale narrative that election reform would somehow financially cripple the state, nothing the Left predicted came to pass. Despite major saber-rattling from companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, and others, it was the outspoken CEOs who ended up in PR crisis mode. When Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of the state, the decision blew up in Democrats’ faces. Republicans like Governor Brian Kemp (R) decided to counter-attack, filing a bill to repeal Delta Airlines aviation fuel tax credit — and triggering a flood of offensive moves against Big Business. Panicked by the calls for a national boycott, Coca-Cola even hit pause on their “diversity” plans and pushed their biggest social warrior, General Counsel Bradley Greyton, out the door. 

Republicans called the bullies’ bluff. And they’ve continued to in places like Florida, where Disney would be the first to tell you that social extremism comes with a political cost. Now, even Hollywood — the cradle of wokeism — is uncharacteristically quiet. While unhinged actors and actresses continue to rage against the Supreme Court, the studios themselves aren’t racing for the exits in production meccas like Louisiana and Georgia. 

Jonathan Kuntz, a UCLA film historian, told the Hollywood Reporter that things are much more complicated now, especially in this suffocating economy. “Once you boycott one [state], some folks may see it as a slippery slope. That’s tricky. It’s very difficult for a large company to negotiate that.”  As for a mass entertainment industry response, “It’s been relatively quiet,” insiders agree. 

That’s because the same states who prioritize life, family, freedom, competitiveness, and small government are the ones financially prospering. And that’s not a working hypothesis. In all of the lists — Forbes’s, CNBC’s Top States for Business 2021Motley Fool’s Best States to Start a BusinessChief Executive Survey of Top CEOs — the most favorable economic climates are some variation of these: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Georgia, Montana, and South Dakota. What do they all have in common? Apart from policies protecting innocent life, they all believe that real freedom leads to economic growth. 

If companies want to pitch a fit and leave those states over their abortion laws, today’s battle-tested conservatives would probably shrug. For once, American businesses — not Republicans — have the most to lose.

Originally published at The Washington Stand. 

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer for The Washington Stand. In her role, she drafts commentary on topics such as life, consumer activism, media and entertainment, sexuality, education, religious freedom, and other issues that affect the institutions of marriage and family. Over the past 20 years at FRC, her op-eds have been featured in publications ranging from the Washington Times to The Christian Post. Suzanne is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland, Ind., with majors in both English Writing and Political Science.

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